Neurosis is one of the most significant bands in heavy metal, as crucial to the genre’s development and vitality as Black Sabbath, Motörhead, Venom or any other pioneering act you’d care to mention. The band formed in Oakland, California in 1985, and its early hardcore and punk communiqués were wrapped in an Amebix-like crust, but in 1992 Neurosis altered its musical course towards doom-laden horizons. The band’s third full-length from that year, Souls at Zero, set in motion a tectonic expansion of heavy metal’s boundaries, profoundly altering the genre’s topography. As Neurosis’s ensuing releases incorporated denser metallic tones to bulk out its sound, and the dimensions of its songwriting duly expanded, the influence of its ear-splitting textural assault added much to the spawning post-metal and hardcore scenes.
Countless ‘post-this’ and ‘atmospheric-that’ bands have since followed in Neurosis’s slipstream. The best have inched close to the band’s contrails, but none has ever truly matched the sheer power of Neurosis in full flight. Releases from the band, such as 1996’s seminal Through Silver in Blood, 2001’s A Sun that Never Sets and the mournful sludgy ambience of 2004’s The Eye of Every Storm are rightly hailed as indomitable metal albums. The band’s alternate identity, Tribes of Neurot, has reconnoitered experimental domains — 2002’s insect noisescape Adaptation and Survival being a particular high point — and collaborations, such as 2003’s Neurosis and Jarboe, offer further proof that Neurosis follows its creative heart, wherever it leads.
Musical accomplishments aside, Neurosis has also fostered a connection with its audience that sees the knot of kinship grow tighter with every release. Neurosis fans are lifers, by and large, and that familial trust exists because there’s never any doubt about what a Neurosis album will provide. Every release acknowledges the existence of its predecessors, staying within a slow/loud/brooding framework of intimidating proportions. In that sense, Neurosis’s core template has remained fixed over the years. Yet, on each release Neurosis has evolved and expanded its sonic palette, using palpable sonic mechanisms–be they dissonant or melodious, blunt or subtle–to construct resonating songs that turn solitary aguish into a shared cathartic experience.
You’re guaranteed integrity from a Neurosis release, and the band’s latest and 10th studio album, Honor Found in Decay, is no different. It’s been five long years since the onslaught of 2007’s Given to the Rising, but fans’ patience has been amply rewarded. Honor Found in Decay finds vocalists and guitarists Steve Von Till and Scott Kelly, drummer Jason Roeder, keyboardist and sampler Noah Landis, bassist Dave Edwardson, and visual artist Josh Graham furthering their pilgrimage into the transcendental sway of monolithic riffing and brawny emotiveness.
However, one markedly different element on the new album is that the prolonged jostling and brute heaviness of the band’s previous work has been reconfigured. Where in the past persistent mass sustained the crushing force of Neurosis’s missives as it fluctuated between tumultuousness and delicacy, on Honor Found in Decay the band crafts more fragile reveries.
The change in tack means Honor Found in Decay reveals its depths with repeated listens. Although that’s a feature of every Neurosis release, the band’s latest has less of an immediate, visceral punch. Still, Neurosis has never upped the ferocity stakes needlessly, or simply catered to fans’ expectations — truthfulness being far more important than extremity. While there’s still an abundance of Neurosis’s sonorous, bombastic stomp and textural ingenuity, the ruminative rhythms of Von Till and Kelly’s psychedelic folk and dark Americana solo works are strongly felt.
The pummeling vigor of the past is more carefully dispensed, and the album is less of a destructive torrent, more of a controlled deluge. If comparisons need to be made, then Honor Found in Decay lightens the shadow of The Eye of the Storm, and calms the up-front rage found on Given to Rising. The album’s smoldering fires may perplex, or even seem tamer, for those expecting a roaring blaze, but it’s an honest reflection of the emotional and creative spirit of the band in 2012. Neurosis is getting older, but Honor Found in Decay doesn’t find the band withering. Instead, it is Neurosis’s most considered and intimate album, as commanding and forthright as the band’s very best work.
Once again, Steve Albini handles the engineering, his fifth call to duty, and the resulting sound is as direct and honest (there’s that word again) as you’d expect. In keeping with Neurosis’s aesthetic, the songs are well muscled, but they rise, in the most, from portentous intros, with lightly strummed chords, synthesizer and atmospheric samples setting the mood before the burly guitars, bass and percussion arrive.
Opener “We All Rage in Gold” begins on a radiant incline before bursting into a rolling, mid-tempo riff, with gruff vocals, keyboards and psychedelic samples cutting though its luminescence to bring the trance-inducing grooves — churning out on sludgy acid burn. Musically, it’s a magnificent start. The first words sung, “I walk into the water, to wash the blood from my feet,” see Neurosis illuminating the path to deliverance again. Admittedly, it is dimly lit on occasion — Von Till and Kelly’s gravelly, baritone growls maintaining the plaintive drama — but while the entire album speaks of turmoil, it also tells another more important tale: one of survival.
That’s a situation Neurosis knows all too well, as the band’s members have been battered by misfortune, addictions and trauma. But those experiences are put to good use, and on Honor Found in Decay Neurosis opens up, making more room for narrative depth, and using differing instrumentation and arrangements to suit its distinctive brogue. Keyboards, acoustic guitars, strings and even bagpipes interweave and stand in isolation, adding grain and girth to the band’s sludge-ridden solemnity.
“At the Well” begins with a rustic strum and hoarse vocal, but tension, always a primary tool for Neurosis, saturates the song throughout its 10-minute length. Roils of riffs ramp up the tautness, and bagpipes offer a brief glimpse of serenity, before it all pitches forth as the “smoke from a gaping wound” lyric ignites the howling climax. The 11-minute plus “My Heart for Deliverance” similarly simmers before combusting. With samples and keyboards oscillating into dirges of relentless drumming and pitiless riffing, both songs’ elegant passages are made all the more beautiful as you’re acutely aware the gentility is set to be crushed by sledgehammer drops. Both are firm reminders that Neurosis wrestles with maelstrom forces — both emotional and musical.
Neurosis has always provided ruggedly beautiful moments, but it’s the viciousness of a track like “Bleeding the Pigs” that highlights the band’s continuing strength. Drone, psychedelia and skewed electronics combine with an ascending riff and tribal drumming — surging forward into a fevered mix of tripped-out samples and frenzied bursts. The song’s rancor harkens back to the past, as does “All is Found… in Time”, where Roeder’s thunderous tribal drums plow through swirling vintage effects and a mercurial prog scramble. The song’s made all the more effective by mid-song echoing deviations before the pounding percussion locks all into a determined finale. It’s a textbook example of the band’s toughness. However, the primarily straightforward approach of “Casting of the Ages”, where apocalyptic folk transforms into a bruising doom crawl, confirms that the evocativeness of the band’s songs isn’t solely reliant on heaped off-kilter savagery — the fuzz-ridden outro making for the perfect exhale.
Honor Found in Decay closes with the album’s shortest track, “Raise the Dawn”, which softens the album’s temper by fading out on a melancholic wave of twanging guitar and strings. This is very much in keeping with the album’s reflective character, and by the time that final track rolls in the finely tuned balance between the physical and metaphysical that arcs across the entire album is strongly felt.
Honor Found in Decay‘s emotional complexity ensures it remains resoundingly heavy, with unguarded truth being just as important as thick atmospherics or colossal riffs. Its disposition may be more subdued than previous work, but that’s no bad thing. It grinds and it grates, worming its way in rather than battering down the door, and as with the best blues or folk it’s the album’s authenticity that makes it so moving.
For three decades Neurosis has explored life’s sharpest edges, mixing dynamism, minimalism, raw metal and avant-garde flourishes. The band has climbed liberating pinnacles and wallowed in wretched trenches, and through that process its members have become warrior poets and artisans of intensity. Honor Found in Decay is impressive and formidable, revealing a band still searching for that perfect distillation of stentorian sound and heartbreaking sincerity. Many would say Neurosis found a flawless fusion of both years ago; the fact that the band continues to search only reaffirms its commitment to genuine, original artistry.