Music

Neurosis: The Word As Law

Out of print since the 1990s, The Word As Law show the evolution of Neurosis from straightforward hardcore to a more thoughtful, but nonetheless aggressive, outfit.


Neurosis

The Word As Law

Label: Neurot
US Release Date: 2017-08-25
Amazon
iTunes

Reissues of long out of print recordings are essentially historical artifacts. Albums returning from the oblivion of folded record labels and legal ownership battles tend to reflect forgotten and neglected moments of bands at creatively formative moments in their careers. In particular for metal and hardcore acts, the reissuing of rare and discontinued records typically gives insight into a DIY past of indie labels, lo-fi recordings, and, occasionally, early experiments in breaking out of calcified stereotypes of the genres.

Initially released in 1990 by the Bay area-based Lookout! Records, Neurosis’ The Word As Law represents the moment when the band transitioned from a by-the-book West Coast hardcore outfit into a one more adept at toying with sonic textures and song structures. Originally issued solely as a vinyl release, Law went out of print in the '90s and languished in circulation purgatory after Lookout! closed up shop for good in 2012. Available for the first time in decades courtesy of Neurosis’ label Neurot, The Word As Law reveals a band that didn’t step away from their hardcore origins as much as surpassed expectations with daring slow tempos and surprising musical turns.

Opening track “Double-Edged Sword” begins with four clean guitar chords, chiming out like a grandfather clock intoning the beginning of a ritual. A stark contrast to the shout vocals and riff-worshiping to follow, but entirely prophetic of the new direction Neurosis envisioned for their sophomore release. Tracks like “The Choice” and “Insensitivity” bring the same hardcore sensibilities, but with a slightly more mature edge with their shifts in tempo and mood. There’s still plenty of Napalm Death-inspired hardcore thrash throughout The Word As Law, but Neurosis shows early signs of evolving into something more involved than a dyed-in-the-wool west coast aggro outfit.

Experimenting with layered acoustic guitars and tempo shifts, tracks like “To What End?” and “Obsequious Obsolescence” demonstrate Scott Kelly and company pushing their musical boundaries beyond traditional two-and-a-half minute stompers. Occasionally, the limitations of their technology hold back the reach of their vision. The grittiness of the analog recording suits the metal and hardcore moments, but a handful of experimental moments–clean tracked guitars, keyboard background–don’t blend as well as they would have with a bigger studio budget.

These moments reveal a band wanting more than a coast-centric scene could offer. Lookout! Records had a knack for fostering Bay Area bands until they were ready for a commercial break out (Green Day, Rancid, the Donnas, etc.). The lo-fi sound works in clubs and dive bars, but here Neurosis was thinking of a bigger sonic picture. “Common Inconsistencies” pummels the listener, no question, but the left-right panning screams and bookends of static and feedback show how Neurosis envisioned a bigger sonic picture in their evolving sound.

Compared to today’s metal and hardcore scenes, The Word As Law feels primitive, but context reveals its subtle risks and experiments. Sculpting feedback into musical material and toying with tempos more akin to doom and stoner metal was not as common then as it is today. While not for everyone, experimental metal aficionados and die-hard Neurosis fans will savor this glimpse into the early days of an extreme music behemoth in the making.

7
Music


Books


Film


Recent
Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Confinement and Escape: Emma Donoghue and E.L. Doctorow in Our Time of Self-Isolation

Emma Donoghue's Room and E.L. Doctorow's Homer & Langley define and confront life within limited space.

Books

Political Cartoonist Art Young Was an Aficionado of all Things Infernal

Fantagraphics' new edition of Inferno takes Art Young's original Depression-era critique to the Trump Whitehouse -- and then drags it all to Hell.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

OK Go's Emotional New Ballad, "All Together Now", Inspired by Singer's Bout with COVID-19

Damian Kulash, lead singer for OK Go discusses his recent bout with COVID-19, how it impacted his family, and the band's latest pop delight, "All Together Now", as part of our Love in the Time of Coronavirus series.

Books

The Rules Don't Apply to These Nonconformist Novelists

Ian Haydn Smith's succinct biographies in Cult Writers: 50 Nonconformist Novelists You Need to Know entice even seasoned bibliophiles.

Music

Siren Songs' Merideth Kaye Clark and Jenn Grinels Debut As a Folk Duo (album stream + interview)

Best friends and longtime musical collaborators Merideth Kaye Clark and Jenn Grinels team up as Siren Songs for the uplifting folk of their eponymous LP.

Music

Buzzcocks' 1993 Comeback 'Trade Test Transmissions' Showed Punk's Great Survivors' Consistency

PopMatters' appraisal of Buzzcocks continues with the band's proper comeback LP, Trade Test Transmissions, now reissued on Cherry Red Records' new box-set, Sell You Everything.

Music

Archie Shepp, Raw Poetic, and Damu the Fudgemunk Enlighten and Enliven with 'Ocean Bridges'

Ocean Bridges is proof that genre crossovers can sound organic, and that the term "crossover" doesn't have to come loaded with gimmicky connotations. Maybe we're headed for a world in which genres are so fluid that the term is dropped altogether from the cultural lexicon.

Books

Claude McKay's 'Romance in Marseille' Is Ahead of Its Time

Claude McKay's Romance in Marseille -- only recently published -- pushes boundaries on sexuality, disability, identity -- all in gorgeous poetic prose.

Music

Christine Ott Brings the Ondes Martenot to New Heights with the Mesmerizing 'Chimères'

France's Christine Ott, known for her work as an orchestral musician and film composer, has created a unique new solo album, Chimères, that spotlights an obscure instrument.

Music

Man Alive! Is a Continued Display of the Grimy-Yet-Refined Magnetism of King Krule

Following The OOZ and its accolades, King Krule crafts a similarly hazy gem with Man Alive! that digs into his distinct aesthetic rather than forges new ground.

Books

The Kinks and Their Bad-Mannered English Decency

Mark Doyles biography of the Kinks might complement a seminar in British culture. Its tone and research prove its intent to articulate social critique through music for the masses.

Music

ONO Confronts American Racial Oppression with the Incendiary 'Red Summer'

Decades after their initial formation, legendary experimentalists ONO have made an album that's topical, vital, uncomfortable, and cathartic. Red Summer is an essential documentation of the ugliness and oppression of the United States.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.