Ever heard of Isis? How about this tiny band called Mastodon? Pelican? Earth? Converge??? I know you have, because in their own rights, these bands are massive (or at least were massive..RIP Isis, reunion tour soon? Sound good?). As influential and important as they are, however, none of them would even exist today if not for the mighty Neurosis. For the past 27 years, Neurosis has been shaping the universe of metal from behind the scenes, never quite achieving the fame of their peers but influencing their every move with each subsequent release. The ever-evolving yet always classic sound flowed from blistering punk metal in the late 80’s – early 90’s to proggy post-hardcore throughout the 90’s to the post-metal titans that they have been ever since the turn of the century. Neurosis essentially created the genre of post-metal, a genre whose elements have reverberated and laid the groundwork for some of the biggest bands in the game. It’s no coincidence Neurosis leading man Scott Kelly has appeared on all Mastodon albums since Leviathan; that band in particular owes most of their sonic adventurousness to the mass of conventions that Neurosis shattered in the years before them.
Neurosis doesn’t play many concerts, but the ones they do play are reported as being more like spiritual experiences than actual music performances. This may have a lot to do with the cult like fervor that most of Neurosis’s fans regard them with, yet it’s hard to listen to this band without feeling that the live performance of this music would be anything less than transcendental. Neurosis’ music moves along more by feeling than any sort of strict structure. Passages may drone on for minutes on end, cycling Kelly and Von Til’s absolutely massive riffs on top of Jason Roeder’s raw, energetic drumming, always reaching a point where everything climaxes in a manner that sounds more Godspeed You! Black Emperor, than any of their more metal-oriented contemporaries. While this foundation has remained relatively unchanged for the past two decades or so, it’s what Neurosis builds on top of it that has kept them sounding astoundingly fresh for a band that will soon be reaching its third decade of existence. You can usually get a pretty good idea of what thematic and music elements each Neurosis album will contain by its cover art. The Eye of Every Storm in 2002 had a very minimal, greyish tone, which was reflected by the extremely spare electronics and songwriting that characterized the album. Given To The Rising in 2007 featured a very shadowy, ancient warhorse, an image that reflected the harkening back to the bands heavier days. And this year’s Honor Found in Decay has artwork that is likewise symbolic, the leather monument bringing to mind the Nordic tribalism that affects a lot of the music on this album. As they have done time and time again, Neurosis have reinvented themselves in a way that is comfortingly familiar while embracing elements completely foreign.
Honor Found In Decay starts off with one of its shortest tracks (at six and a half minutes) with “We All Rage in Gold.” If you think these guys’ penchant for quasi-noble cheese only extends to their album and song titles, let’s look at the first few lyrics from this track:
“I’ll walk in the water / To wash the blood from my feet / My path is ever holding/ My shadows claim release / The sky it holds my father /The sun recalls my soul / The reason forgotten/ Of the lessons burned in oak”
Yeah…pretty ridiculous shit. But Neurosis exists in a completely different universe than tongue-in-cheek. Every single lyric in this album is sung, croaked, screamed or whatever with such resolve that it’s impossible not to take it seriously. These guys sing about some pretty weighty shit, and if you can’t handle it, then get off the fucking boat. “We All Rage In Gold,“ is a great refresher on Neurosis’ sound, and a nice introduction for any new fans, especially powerful last few minutes or so. The next two tracks, “At The Well,” and “My Heart For Deliverance,” are the first showcases of the tribal, majestic theme of this album. Both songs feature psychedelic electronics and what sounds like some sort of primitive bagpipe during their extended sections that help give the music an especially legendary tone, in the most literal sense of the term. This works especially well in the latter track, the 12 minute “My Heart For Deliverance,” which halfway through turns into just about the most beautiful track you’ll hear this year. These guys have decades of experience under their belt, and it shows in this song’s mastery of dynamics, space and timing. They flex these muscles again in the sludgy “Casting Of The Ages,” a dirge of a track where Neurosis somehow manages to pull off repeating the same sluggish melody for like 8 straight minutes. These guys are seriously the masters. Neurosis’ music only seems to exist during one of three time periods: right before the apocalypse, during the apocalypse, or after the apocalypse. The reflective nature of the music and lyrics on this record makes me believe that this album occurs during the wake of destruction, as the darkness that plagues this record is tinged with a sense of hope that is very uncharacteristic to such a doom-laden band. The folky elements of this album carry with them a light which seperates Honor Found in Decay from any of their past releases, and the best example of this shining light can be found on the last track of the album, “Raise the Dawn.” The song trudges it’s way through it’s menacing verses and chorus only to be slowly taken over by a beautiful, very pure sounding violin piece. The closer is one of the most powerful and positive closing statements in the band’s discography, and sends a clear message that despite being well into their 40s, Neurosis still contains the same vitality and essentiality that put them up there with the most important bands of all time.
With incredible releases by Neurosis, Swans, and GY!BE this year, it seems like the music world is being forced to reconsider music that you actually have to take time to stop and listen to. We can only hope that this trend will continue ever onward into the future.