A new Neurosis record is always a noteworthy occasion, especially since they don’t come around all that often. Their last album, Honor Found in Decay, was released nearly four years ago to the day, and its predecessor, Given to the Rising, came out in ’07. But you can’t accuse this outfit of making the same album twice; from Souls at Zero to Through Silver in Blood and even back to their hardcore salad days, they’ve constantly kept evolving. With that said, expectations of a kinder, mellower Neurosis in continuing with their previous two albums are tempered somewhat by the fact that they’ve been dusting off their discography for some 30th anniversary shows in London and San Fran, playing different sets on consecutive nights. So, how much of that history might seep into their latest offering?
Fires Within Fires is a compact five tracks stretching just over 40 minutes; only one tune on here is just over 10. “Bending Light” leads us off in slow, sludgy fashion, with an intro reminiscent of the Sabbath classic “War Pigs.” We do get a slow, oozing riff that borders on trad doom for the first three minutes, accented by some far-out keyboard sounds, though there are no generals gathering here; this track is entirely instrumental until we’re halfway through its eight-minute runtime. And any notions of a softer Neurosis are swiftly dispelled—this is about as heavy and evil as anything they’ve done in a while. Those breakdowns just shy of the six-minute mark really pack a wallop!
“A Shadow Memory” is a little more sparse, but no less vicious, as Scott Kelly’s leather-lunged vocals come in almost immediately. A few good doomy riffs on this one, too. The keyboard tone that signals a change of pace about four minutes in would not sound outta place on Through Silver… “Fire is the End Lesson” segues perfectly out of its predecessor, albeit with a few more muddy breakdowns and call-and-response vocals—perhaps the closest they’ll come to old-school slowcore vibes, but still with that distinctive Neurosian twist.
“Broken Ground” is more in the vein of the mellower stuff I’d been expecting, a slow, countrified verse beneath an earthy spoken word vocal. I think they’ve even got a harmonica on here. The slow buildup begins less than two minutes in, although the attack is a little more earthy, and not as oppressively heavy, before they return to another mellow, folksy verse. I’d still put it up there with anything on Honor Found in Decay. Closing track “Reach,” the lone 10-minute number, does tend to meander, sounding more like something off a Steve von Till solo album. A bit of a buzzkill at the end of an otherwise excellent record.