Neurosis is a band that should need no introduction.
The impact of their music has rightfully been both far-reaching and massive; encompassing everything from underground metal to the noise/industrial scene to mega-huge bands like Soundgarden.
2016 finds the Bay Area progenitors of adjective and influence-rich post-metal celebrating their 30th year as a band, and new record Fires Within Fires is their eleventh full length album, situated among a slew of other shorter releases and collaborations. The band has been busy throughout the past year, celebrating their anniversary with a string of special live performances that showcased songs from throughout their career, as well as a gorgeous vinyl box set release of all of their records to date. Now comes Fires Within Fires, a suitable endcap for a year of proving to fans that Neurosis not only have not lost step with their contemporaries, but rather frequently continue to exceed them in every aspect.
From my first listen of the record, I found myself continuously trying to place it within the pantheon of their other releases. Is it like Times of Grace? Is it more like Eye of Every Storm, or Honor Found in Decay? This is a subconscious tendency I’m sure I share with a lot of other people who listen to music critically, but this time around I eventually came to the conclusion that it was not really the right approach, because this record is truly different.
Arguably, since Neurosis began working alongside legendary engineer/producer Steve Albini with 1999’s Times of Grace, there has been a consistent sonic signature to the band that has become a defining element of their subsequent releases. Fires Within Fires retains this aesthetic in its austere clarity and gritty heaviness, though the songs themselves deviate from past Neurosis records in that they reflect the band’s embrace of a more concise songwriting style that seems to precisely encapsulate the ideas and feelings of each track more fully than on any other album. The record contains a sparse five songs, that frequently eschew the band’s penchant for interludes and lengthy, meandering compositions that unfold over the course of 10+ minutes. In fact, only the final track on Fires Within Fires hits the 10 minute mark, and interestingly the band somehow has managed to make this kind of scaling back feel intensely refreshing. The album as a whole is a satisfying listen even as it concludes, nothing left on the table, and nothing missing.
Album opener Bending Light smashes its way into existence with a giant riff that eventually gives way to a quieter interval accented with effects and static drenched samples as a backdrop. As this calm begins to settle in, the song explodes back into heaviness as Scott Kelly’s gravel and rasp tears the listener out of the dream. This continues into a lengthy dose of the riff that ends the song, which is huge enough to stand up to anything from Through Silver In Blood or Times of Grace era.
Other standout tracks include Fire is the End Lesson, which pounds and bends itself into an ecstatic trance of earth shattering proportions and album closer Reach. The latter track is probably most reminiscent of the band’s material from The Eye of Every Storm/Given to the Rising in both length and dynamics, starting off with a languid, contemplative passage and cleaner vocals. This unfurls itself throughout the first half of the song, ultimately subsiding into a section of gorgeous, shimmering texture that is abruptly shattered by the absolutely monstrous buzzsaw of a riff that sends the whole thing screaming to a close.
Every song on this record sees the band refining their approach, shaving off everything extraneous in their sound and scraping their way down to the absolute core of the idea they have been shaping for over 30 years now. Fires Within Fires is as much a statement of who Neurosis is as a band as was Souls At Zero when they thrust themselves into the virgin territory that they proceeded to claim and reclaim over and over throughout a remarkable career. As if to make this abundantly clear from the start, the lyrics of the first track Bending Light repeat “…peeling the skin away reveals the heart”. That is exactly what has happened here, and Neurosis has accomplished it beautifully.
Release Date: September 23, 2016
Label: Neurot Recordings
Favorite Tracks: Bending Light, Reach
For Fans Of: ITS FUCKING NEUROSIS