A new series in which our writers confess to a gap in their musical knowledge…
Being a heavy metal obsessive for eighteen years and counting, I would like to think of myself as having an (at least relatively) broad knowledge of the bands that helped shape where we are today. However, as any honest metalhead will tell you, the history of our world is so sonically rich, so abundant in off-shoots, sub-strains and subtle mutations, that in reality the most schooled and devoted of riff disciple isn’t even scratching the surface. That hunt for faster, nastier and stranger is a life-long compulsion that never really goes away, and can never really be fulfilled. So there’s always new things to explore, genre blind-spots, bands you’ve never got around to, but of course never enough hours in day. With this unforeseen era of self containment however, and (for many of us) a bit more time at our disposal, when better than now to don your headphones, drown out the avalanche of shite that is 2020 and take a deep dive down the unending heavy metal rabbithole. I’ve decided to do just that, and finally quash a both shameful and embarrassing gap in my listening; Oakland based standard-bearers Neurosis.
After living with the band for just over a week, it is clear to me now (as it has most likely been to you from the instant of reading) that I’ve been a complete idiot. Sure, I was familiar with their importance in underground circles, and a few cursory listens left me somewhat clued up on what to expect sound-wise, however there’s obviously no excuse for never going properly in on a band as seminal and celebrated as the Californian five-piece. Righting that wrong, though, has certainly been a joy.
Given the inescapable acclaim and influence of 1996’s Through Silver In Blood, I reached for this first, and was immediately struck by the magnitude of these songs. THIS is what, even twenty four years after its release, all the fuss is about, and although I’m nowhere near done exploring the terrifying depth of sound offered here, with each subsequent listen it becomes more and more apparent why this fifth full-length remains a much talked about extreme metal milestone, and a record from which genres themselves were spawned; it somehow sounds both enduringly familiar and unlike anyone else.
With its rolling, tribal grooves and monolithic riffs it’s not difficult to spot the impact that this record has had on the likes of Cult Of Luna, Isis and long-time best mates Mastodon (do I also detect just a little bit of shared DNA with Iowa-era Slipknot? Seriously, listen to the title-track of that album and come back to me), yet there’s a physicality here that those bands simply can’t match, a visceral doom-laden oppression that even to my untrained ear already sounds uniquely Neurosis. And looking beyond the tidal wave sludge, there’s a level of intelligence that leaves the most fearless of post-metal bands choking on their dust. ‘Aeon’, with it’s cataclysmic attack paired with an ebbing tide of strings and keys, for one displays some extraordinary dynamic peaks. And when the bagpipes break through on ‘Purity’? Just glorious.
I get the feeling that in less skilled hands this sort of suffocating, avant-garde darkness would be simply all too gruelling, but even at points where time seems to stand still, Neurosis possess the kind of elemental power to keep listeners hopelessly transfixed, and although a billion miles away from easy listening there is a special brand of something that continues to keep fans (myself now included) coming back for a fresh beating.
No doubt I’ve opened quite the can of worms on my Neurosis journey. But hey, only ten more albums to go…
If you’re enjoying our content, please consider supporting us on Patreon.
Words: Tony Bliss