Neurosis brings post-metal back to its roots

Oakland’s visionary riff-mongers remind the movement of its foundation.

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Maxwell Heilman, Writer

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Neurosis’ 31-year pursuit of suffocating grandeur speaks for itself. After releasing some of the best crust punk ever recorded, Oakland’s Neurosis reinvented the sludge metal wheel. In doing so, they created post-metal by adding alien sounds, oddball instrumentation and atmospheric depth to a viscerally crushing approach.

Sheer Musicality

As with any groundbreaking band, the danger of falling behind in a scene they brought to life grows with every subsequent innovation. “Fires Within Fires” proves Neurosis still reigns supreme over a style they perfected decades ago.

Post-metal has drifted from stomping sludge in favor of monolithic and ultimately monotonous dirges, but Neurosis wastes no time in reinstating the vitality of Melvins-inspired riffage. Indeed, the first riff of “Bending Light” should sound dated as its fuzzed out chords and simplistic drums harken back to previous decades, but the sheer musicality of Neurosis propels their sound forward. Guitarist and vocalist Scott Kelly balances primal rage with nuanced arrangements, bridging the gap between where post-metal came from and where it travels to.

Brooding Sound

A Shadow Memory” alludes to Earth’s twangy dirges with repetitious strains and plodding beats. The morosity of this southern gothic could easily drive an album’s worth of material, but subtle tempo fluctuations coinciding with sudden crescendos make this, and every track on “Fires Within Fires,” an emotional thrill ride. Having no use for trends, Neurosis implements whatever they want into their brooding sound.

The same bravery appears in “Fire Is the End Lesson,” but this time Noah Landis’ monstrous keyboard supports barrel-chested groove over Kelly’s gravelly howls. Crunchy modulations unrelentingly batter the listener through the track, but looking past this meat-and-potatoes foundation reveals keyboard noise dragging the hair-raisingly climactic riff into the bowels of hell.

Raw and Majestic Flavors

Many modern post-metal bands resort to excruciatingly long buildups and song transitions, but Neurosis “Fires Within Fires” knows when explosive heaviness trumps harrowing hypnosis. The confidence they exude submerging in ethereal waters before blasting into the stratosphere through geysers of filthy dissonance manifests throughout the album, equalizing its raw and majestic flavors.

The most delicate passages of “Fires Within Fires” could turn violent in a heartbeat, but never at any expense of the expansive arrangements Neurosis spent 20 years mastering. The string-heavy soundscape in the first 35 seconds of “Broken Ground” compares to Sigur Rós in its tranquil beauty, but just when one thinks Jónsi’s voice will enter, drummer Jason Roeder’s hard-hitting down beat brings gloomy guitars back. Even so, this track feels like it might take more time to reach culmination, but what sounds like the beginning of a Swans-esque crescendo plunges without warning into gut-wrenchingly thick guitar chords. Kelly’s vocals follow the instruments, juggling spiteful snarls and drawls reminiscent of Johnny Cash and Tom Waits, while the opening soundscape’s ongoing presence accentuates both extremes.

Reach” again starts out like many dreamy rock bands, but subsequent drum thuds keep it from amorphously drifting. Vocal harmonies highlight the aforementioned southern gothic, while inharmonious guitar and synth lines provide nuance. The longest track on the album, Neurosis seems to finally take their time reaching the climax, until the final riff smashes listeners in the face. The album’s abrupt ending with just Kelly’s growl illustrates how blatant “Fires Within Fires” becomes next to modern post-metal. Clocking in at under 45 minutes, Neurosis forsakes the epic for the bludgeoning. Every genre needs a formative band putting newcomers in their place. Djent has Meshuggah, melo-death has At The Gates and post-metal has Neurosis.

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