The release of Neurosis’ 11th album coincides with the band’s 30th anniversary. There’s not many bands that make it that far, and there are even fewer that continue to produce music that is forward thinking, vibrant and fresh. When thinking of Neurosis, the idea of cycles springs to mind. Their early hardcore beginnings, the post-metal and sludge phases, this is a band constantly reinventing. Much like The Fall, they’re always different and always the same. It’s just unlikely you’ll find your granny on bongos in Neurosis.
They seem to be in an endless loop of destruction and rebuilding and Fires Within Fires certainly fits the mould. With this album the band has maintained some of the elements of the past (producer Steve Albini and their way with light and shade being two such examples) but rather than sticking to a template, they’ve pushed on into new territories. As influential as Neurosis have been over the years, and make no mistake, they’ve been instrumental in a number of genres, it is this constant re-invention and exploration that makes them true pioneers in their field.
Fires Within Fires finds the band stripping things back a little in terms of orchestration yet still managing to retain a beguiling depth and hypnotic quality to their more ambient moments. It is also their shortest album in years and whilst these five songs stretch beyond the 40 minute mark this shorter running time means that the album feels focused and direct even during its more hazy moments.
Bending Light wastes no time in establishing the mood of the album as it veers from a crushing opening riff into a creepy nightmarish crawl expertly augmented by the samples of Noah Landis. Within the first four minutes Neurosis has taken elements of blues, folk, metal, electronica and the literary influence of Poe and Melville and combined them to breathtaking effect. Whilst the riffs seem simplistic on the surface, there’s an atmospheric depth at play here that can’t be ignored. When Kelly roars the repeated line “tear the skin away, reveal the heart” it’s hard not to assume that he’s referring to the band’s songs, imploring his audience to look beyond the expertly executed riffs.
A Shadow Memory initially finds the band in quiet and introspective mood and its lyrics reveal a band that seems to be contemplating the end. Kelly growls of seeking “refuge in forgotten songs, to carry me over…when life is exhausted” which initially seems loaded with impending doom, until he invokes “the coiled serpent” whose “eye in the circle” provides a guiding light. Once again, it’s the band considering re-invention or re-incarnation and its own history. When the distortion kicks in, it keeps things simple. Single notes are imbued with an impossible weight, chords rumble with dark portent. Fire Is The End Lesson doesn’t waste any time with understated intros, instead launching into a repetitive pulse which finds Kelly and Steve Von Till babbling over each other. Once again, slow, simplistic riffs provide the basis for Landis to weave his magic. As the song opens out into further into a rolling and irresistible riff, Neurosis just keep upping the ante and Landis provides electronic screams that sound like the collapse of modern civilisation.
From the burning embers of Fire Is The End comes Broken Ground which is practically a folk song, and sounds for all the world as if Mark Lanegan has made yet another guest appearance. The switching between stripped quiet sections and the ferocious sludge encrusted explosions might be an old trick, but Neurosis are absolute masters at it. Broken Ground is not only a perfect example of the power that the band can produce from a standing start but also proof that it’s not as simple as stepping on a stomp box, there has to be some kind of narrative to have really lasting impact. Nowhere is this better illustrated than on the closing 10 minute behemoth that is Reach. Starting out with clean guitars and the harmonised vocals of Von Till and Kelly this is Neurosis at their most delicate and elegant whilst also keeping a creeping sense of dread. This is folk with menaces. After nearly eight minutes of smoky threat, the band thunder into action, but rather than a taught muscular pummelling, it’s the sound of relief and the much needed release of tension, like a cramp easing off.
Fires Within Fires once again proves Neurosis to be a strong and inventive creative force. If their timeline is indeed cyclic, then they’re still strolling along the serpent’s back, and it’s showing no sign of disappearing up its own asp anytime soon.
First Published on MusicOMH.com 23/9/16