A Sun That Never Sets
When Neurosis’ A Sun That Never Sets Was released, it received some middling reviews, in part because the band had to some degree tempered the crushing sound that characterized essentially the whole of their output during the ’90s. Yet, by contrast, it’s grown over the past 15 years to become a cult favorite among fans. At the risk of giving away too much too soon, however, I’ll just go ahead and say that, after their first few records of still-crystallizing hardcore beatdowns, Neurosis didn’t release any bad albums. Even those aren’t total shit, just underwhelming and basic when held against the most experimental and ambitious of what they’d later release. Where A Sun That Never Sets likely felt a bit like a letdown is in its more hushed tones. Scott Kelly and Steve Von Till began to incorporate more of a folk influence into their songwriting, and while the music itself isn’t really folk, per se, the softer tones and atmospheric space within the songs on the album meant less of the urgency that marked its predecessor Times of Grace, which was also recorded by Steve Albini. Albini’s signature drum thwack is here, of course, but the songs move with fewer climaxes, a fairly short and digestible piece like the title track more open and meditative than, say, “Locust Star.” By contrast, the gradual evolution of the 13-minute “Falling Unknown,” complete with mournful strings, puts the band closer to Godspeed You! Black Emperor than Melvins, and the slow burn of the title track is chilling. And there’s something uplifting and ascendant about the almost Lungfish-like “Crawl Back In.” A Sun That Never Sets doesn’t hit as hard as many of Neurosis’ other albums, and as such is less immediate. Where it makes up for that is in being one of their most interesting. Every listen reveals something new.
Rating: 8.7 out of 10
Neurosis & Jarboe
Given Neurosis’ background and history, and undeniable Swans influence, it was probably inevitable that they’d end up recording something with Jarboe. And it sounds more or less like you might expect it sound—Neurosis playing heavy, epic backing band for Jarboe’s versatile and terrifying vocal presence. That being said, it’s more of a Jarboe album than a Neurosis album, at least in terms of the aesthetic. It’s beautiful and strange and difficult to get one’s head around on a first listen. Or a second listen. It’s one of the less accessible Neurosis albums in (relatively) recent years, and it’s built on more ethereal structures with a heavy emphasis on repetition. Which isn’t to say there aren’t many rewarding moments. But it’s not an easy listen. And that’s a good thing. The last thing you’d want for Neurosis is to get too comfortable.
Rating: 7.0 out of 10
The Eye of Every Storm
Following A Sun That Never Sets and the band’s collaboration with Jarboe, Neurosis continued down the dark path laid out before them since they found their direction on 1992′s Souls at Zero. Yet that darkness has taken on a variety of different shapes, be it terrifying and massive on Through Silver In Blood or soulful and melancholic on A Sun That Never Sets. In fact, most of their recordings lean much closer toward the former than the latter, with varying degrees of dynamics, volume or sonic treatment. The Eye of Every Storm is a different beast altogether. It sounds like Neurosis, sure—the powerful opening dirge “Burn” is one of their strongest songs and an immediately gripping opening. Like A Sun, however, The Eye of Every Storm is an album that warrants closer attention and repeat listen before it really takes hold. It is, arguably, the band’s prettiest album. But it’s a bleak prettiness, their epic compositions fit to score a psychological horror rather than a supernatural one. This isn’t volcanoes swallowing people whole, it’s the feeling of despair deep within your soul and a pervasive sense of desolation. And it’s loud and heavy in its climactic moments, but much of the album is about letting open spaces speak for themselves, for minor chords to land and ring into the emptiness. It’s not an easy listen by any means, but it’s without question the band’s prettiest album.
Rating: 9.0 out of 10
Given to the Rising
While Neurosis’ 2007 album Given to the Rising doesn’t quite have the historic reputation that Times of Grace or The Eye of Every Storm does, in time (and probably soon, given its 10th anniversary is around the corner) it’s likely to warrant a similar reputation. Of the post-millennial Neurosis albums, it’s the one with the most experimentation, the widest display of dynamics and the greatest ambition. While it’s not as quiet or as subdued as A Sun That Never Sets, there’s a similar sense of restraint at play. The band detonates their sonic explosions where they need to, but rather than maintain an endurance test like that of their albums released in the ’90s, they arrive between moments of eerie stillness, with an almost avant garde compositional approach that allow them to sustain dissonant chords or chilling ambient spaces. There’s more synth, more passages of spoken word from Scott Kelly (who at this point is sort of like a metal Tom Waits in his signature growl) and a great deal of beauty throughout. On a track like “Hidden Faces,” they still rip without reservation, but the most breathtaking moments are those such as “To the Wind,” wherein Neurosis displays the glacial grace of prime Sigur Rós.
Rating: 9.1 out of 10
Honor Found in Decay
In early 2013, Steve Von Till said in a Decibel interview that Neurosis’ records weren’t the type of sounds you’d put on if you were throwing a party, and he’s absolutely right. Their music is alternately harrowing and desolate, destructive and fragile—in my own review of Honor Found in Decay back in 2012, I couldn’t help but draw parallels to the pre-apocalypse tension that was going around (erroneously, but still). It feels more like the aftermath than the act of destruction, however—the smoldering crater more than the meteor making its impact. Scott Kelly’s deep, growling presence sounds more grizzled than usual, which suits the music splendidly. There’s an overall sense of doom and dread that can’t be shaken, though in key moments, notably the urgent “All Is Found…In Time” and the opening bombast of “We All Rage In Blood,” the band rocks pretty hard. Much of Honor‘s character is in the nuances and the moments that take their time to resolve. It’s for that reason that it’s likely few fans’ first Neurosis album to reach for, but one worth returning to over time to crack its unsettling code.
Rating: 8.4 out of 10
Fires Within Fires
Twenty years after the release of Through Silver In Blood, Neurosis didn’t really have to prove anything to anyone. They’re still touring, still playing as loud and as ominously as ever, but as elder statesmen responsible for some of the greatest metal albums of all time, their legacy is cemented. As such, Fires Within Fires didn’t have to be a game-changer. Even if it were, would anyone notice? Unlikely; canons are hard to break. And yet, it’s as strong as anything they’ve released in the 21st century. While it doesn’t have the earthy sprawl of A Sun That Never Sets or the apocalyptic post-rock atmosphere of The Eye of Every Storm, it’s the loosest they’ve sounded in a long time, which isn’t to say that they recaptured their hardcore roots. But on a track like “Fire Is The End Lesson,” they display a punchy immediacy that’s sometimes lost within their more conceptual pieces. And yet, there’s a simple, accessible beauty to much of the album, particularly on the stunning “Broken Ground” and the sprawling, psychedelic “Reach.” With only five tracks, it’s the shortest Neurosis album in a long time, but by keeping it lean, they end up sounding that much stronger.
Rating: 8.9 out of 10