New Neurosis! It’s been about five years since I could say that, and while they’ve reissued a good chunk of their back catalogue in the interim, there’s nothing like some fresh timbre to stoke the fires. These guys have been doing this for a long time, and while a couple of ‘em have branched off into the solo acoustic thing—and Jason Roeder has been drafted as the drummer for Sleep—there’s no denying that when it comes to this particular sub-genre, they are the masters of their craft. This is the kinda record you need to sit back and digest; no checking your emails in the background, no pressing pause to watch a clip of kitty cats on YouTube before diving back in. What follows is my attempt to put this experience into words, all med-head, stream-of-consciousness style.
The light, atmospheric airs pervade album-opener “We All Rage in Gold,” vocals sounding quite caustic in contrast, whisky-soaked hardcore barks sinking beneath the waves. The band remains experts at playing off the soft/loud dynamic, delivering some mellow guitar/keyboard passages that lure you into a false sense of ease and security, before they strike with an attack that seems 10-times heavier afterwards. Yup, they still do that here, the wailing keys adding another dimension to their sludgy stomp.
“At the Well” offers an interesting twist, Kelly crooning over some slowly strummed chords initially like something from one of his solo records. A heavy backbeat begins, the soft words taking a sour turn as the guitar notes screech and squeal. A slow dirge follows, doomy riffs ringing out under gut-wrenching vocals—yet it doesn’t come off as terribly menacing. And here’s where it gets interesting. I swear to Satan I hear bagpipes in the break, though that’s possibly just a digital effect, the riffs pulsating and pummelling with air-raid-siren keys in the background. Without the full lyrics in front of me, I don’t really know the meaning of “In a shadow world!” though Scott Kelly sure drives that point home here. Heavily-distorted drill-bit solo till we’re given another round of a soon-to-be live-concert singalong… In a shadow world!
“My Heart for Deliverance” comes groovin’ up slowly—if by groovin’ you mean an eerie slow buildup, sounds of running water and nocturnal creatures fluttering past. A couple minutes later, a familiar, almost militaristic cadence kicks in, before getting all loose and jangly for a few moments, both trawling through the muck and alternately skipping across the stream. The brightness of these passages a little past the 5:30 mark recalls newer Earth, or, call me crazy, a Boston coda. (Not talkin ‘bout the city, either.) The atmosphere is soon shattered with a crushing blow, the downforce of which scatters small animals. I’m somewhat intrigued as to which instrument is making that oscillating, cooing sound alongside this bit. It does not sound like your traditional rock accompaniment, to be sure.
“Bleeding the Pigs” also features Kelly’s voice prominently at the outset, though instead of guitar chords, he’s backed up by strange electronic noises, before a lone guitar joins the fray with conviction, three chords becoming four in an executioner’s march to the gallows. Then, a softly-winding passage accompanies some pounding percussion, effectively taking the edge off while taking the mind off in a different direction. I can’t help but stamp my feet at the drumbeat, a call to some kind of native spiritual dance, a sacred ritual preceding the lighting of the peace pipe. When the heavy, disjointed riffage hits around 5:20, the drums only get louder, scraping at the seams of my skull as the guitars hiss and moan. And then it’s all over, some voiceover clip that I can’t quite decipher leading the way out.
“Casting of the Ages” continues the pattern of easing you in, a rather lovely guitar passage beginning this one, Kelly half-whispering over a harmonica, until the mouth-music blends into a vicious doom downstroke. This one lingers on that heavy, organic note for quite a while, head-nodding to the steady rhythm. Still waiting for this song to throw me a curveball. Six minutes and counting, and there’s nothing of the sort, just straight-ahead, focused on the path. The interlude which follows shortly afterwards offers some tasty riffage, the churning, crashing waves rolling in the deep subconsciousness. Nod if you’re still with me on this one. Good.
“All is Found… in Time” bucks the trend, some frantically crashing drums and tripped-out effects announcing its presence right from the get-go. Again, the drumbeat really drives this one initially, then we’re hit with a riff so doomy that I’m banging my head as I type this. But of course it only lasts for a few measures, giving way to some mellower fare, albeit briefly. In terms of the traditional Neurosis sound (if such a thing exists), this might be the best example, sounding most like it was culled from Through Silver in Blood, though not without its meandering points of no return. At one point, the song slows down entirely, and we’re left with just one guitar—and some space-saucer sounds drifting by from one speaker to the other. This even has a drum solo of sorts, though it really just serves as a transition from the mothership to an escape pod nearby. Still, I must say, the impactful percussion is impressive and really drives things to their rightful conclusion.
And then there was one, “Raise the Dawn” not being the epic album-closer we’ve oftentimes become accustomed to. In fact, it’s the shortest one on here, just under six minutes, at that. A slow, pounding drumbeat, heavy on the cymbals, brings this one up to a crawl, the anticipated attack coming on strong, abandon all ships. Nothing overly complicated here, it sorta ties things up nicely, foraging a clear path not unlike “Casting of the Ages” a couple tracks prior. The guitar solo isn’t forceful; it holds your hand and guides you to the finish line. I’m pretty sure I hear a stringed instrument as this song approaches its conclusion, as well.
It almost seems that with age comes maturity, and with maturity comes more meandering, soft-hearted, semi-accoustic passages. There is certainly its share of lighter fare on here, but the band continues to offer up a contrast of light and heavy for a fuller, richer, listening experience. No, they haven’t gone soft, they’ve just moved the goalposts a little. This is still a “metal” album, just one that defies quick-and-easy categorization. Not for the faint of spirit, but a long, strange trip for the rest of us…