The extreme metal innovators prove once again why they are one of the all-time greats.
Arguably the most influential metal band of the last dozen years (with Eyehategod not far behind), and now in its 22nd year of existence, Oakland, California sextet Neurosis can be viewed in the same light as such fellow metal fragmenters At the Gates, Carcass, Bathory, Napalm Death, and Godflesh, in that their entirely unique sound has spawned a new metal subgenre, spawning a spate of younger bands intent on following their lead. Having such a profound influence on a generation of musicians is the highest compliment, but it comes with a price, as popularity breeds ubiquitousness, to the point where we grow weary of the trends before long. Such is the case with At the Gates' melodic death metal sound, which had been mimicked and bastardized by dozens upon dozens of lesser talents, and this Neurosis-inspired sound, call it "post-metal", "metalgaze", or "NeurIsis", has been in danger of oversaturation as of late, with more and more bands taking the slow, crushingly heavy route, punctuated with tribal drumming and anguished screams.
While certain bands have taken the torch and ran mightily with it, such as Minsk, Intronaut, Cult of Luna, and Year of No Light, like any overexposed musical trend, before long we start to think enough is enough. However, as Isis proved on last year's majestic In the Absence of Truth, nobody does it as well as the original masters, and Neurosis in turn has one-upped their East Coast counterparts with their ninth album, an uncompromising affirmation that they are, without question, the mightiest band if its kind, and show no signs of losing their touch whatsoever.
Three years ago, some people wondered openly if Neurosis was in fact diminishing in power, as The Eye of Every Storm took a much more lucid, sober, controlled approach as opposed to such intense, primal masterpieces as Through Silver in Blood and Times of Grace. While sounding often as eerily calm as its title would indicate, it was nevertheless an exceptional offering from the veteran band, but if one thing's certain about the new disc Given to the Rising, it's that Storm detractors and supporters can all agree that it delivers, plain and simple, and has Neurosis sounding more ferocious, focused, and yes, even catchier than they have in a good eight years.
Continuing what has been a remarkable eight year artistic collaboration, the band has teamed up yet again with Steve Albini, whose recording style suits Neurosis perfectly, those warm analog tape tones enveloping listeners as the massive drums and roaring vocals throttle away. For Albini's prowess, though, what hits us from the start of the new album is just how strong the actual songwriting is. In fact, Given to the Rising wastes absolutely no time in grabbing our attention; there's no slow fade-in here, as the title track goes for the throat from bar one, launching into a Sabbatherian guitar riff and percussion groove. When it comes to epic song dynamics, this band is without peer, manipulating us endlessly with twists and turns, but while the loud-soft-loud-soft formula is expected, when the bottom drops out in a Neurosis song, only to return with even more force, the visceral thrill is undeniable, and "Given to the Rising" is a perfect example.
"Fear and Sickness" lurches along like a limping behemoth, the disturbing, sustained guitar notes by Steve Von Till and Scott Kelly underscored by otherworldly thrums and drones of noise courtesy Noah Landis, while the eight minute "At the End of the Road" is another summation of what these guys are all about, the emphasis this time on the powerful drumming of Jason Roeder, Landis's ambient touches, and the eventual collision of massive guitars, which come crashing in nearly five minutes into the song. "Hidden Faces", which kicks off the second half of the album, is the most immediate song, Roeder's continual stick count-ins adding a nervousness to the otherwise stately arrangement, but it's on two longer tracks in particular that Neurosis boldly sticks to its time-honored template and succeeds mightily, first on the efficient, comfortably familiar "Distill (Watching the Swarm)", and to even more spectacular effect on "Origin", which takes nine whole minutes of bleak beauty before the climactic squall of density crushes us one last time, leaving us catching our breath when the song, and the album, comes to an immediate, jarring halt.
For all of Given to the Rising's awe-inspiring power, though, we are reminded from time to time of the band's growing skill at more melodic numbers, the highlight here being the shimmering "To the Wind", which hints at first toward the Slowdive-inspired majesty of Jesu, but eventually starts into a jarringly upbeat groove. While it may be the most conventional song on the album, it never strays from that core Neurosis sound, be it Von Till's authoritative baritone, or the towering riffs that interrupt the tender beauty near the end, offering a tantalizing glimpse at the darkness that lurks beneath. It's one of many examples of how Neurosis returned to the form of the late 1990s, back when underground metal was turned upside down by their spacious yet pulverizing music. The adoring young bands can try to imitate these guys all they want, but as this fantastic, near-flawless album attests, nothing beats the real thing.