There’s no better way to celebrate three decades as a band than with a new album, right? For Neurosis, 30 long years is a historic achievement, especially when they can still knock out some of the most consistent forms of sludge/doom/post-metal music we’ve heard. As heavy as they have been all these years, their solid approach to their music has made sure that no two albums of theirs sound the same.
Four years after their last offering Honor Found In Decay comes Fires Within Fires, which is possibly their most instant album to date. They make sure they waste no time in dishing out their signature slabs of sludgy riffs with the opening track ‘Bending Light’, which slots in a few moments of calmness in-between the monstrous riffs before Scott Kelly and Steve Von Till carry us through to the end with lyrics that focuses (as usual) on themes of mind, soul and body, with the lyric, “Peeling skin away, reveals the heart” as a fine example of those themes.
‘A Shadow Memory’ follows suit, as it will cleanse your mind one moment, then it washes over you with harmonic heaviness, with Von Till’s signature gravelly bellow permeates throughout the simplistic, yet brilliant harmonies. ’Fire Is The End Lesson’ will please fans of the old, bulldozer sounds that made Neurosis stand out among other similar bands at the time. While the band’s consistent cacophony and dual vocals are ever present, this is also the first song on the record where keyboardist Noah Landis truly comes into play, as he roars in with possibly the most destructive electronic wails you’re most likely to hear this year.
Once ‘Broken Ground’ starts, the intro is more of a respite than the previous three tracks, giving the listener a chance to breathe. During the first verse (provided by Steve Von Till in his deep register), the listeners is pretty much bracing themselves for the onslaught ahead – and sure enough, the heaviness hits you like a car crash with one of the more memorable riffs that Neurosis has ever produced, then it gets quiet again, then loud, and at that point the listener probably expects them to ride the loud out until the end, but they have a big trick up their sleeve – it cuts back to the quiet part again, and it stays that way right to the end.
The album closes with the epic ‘Reach’, which sees the band toying with post-metal’s idea of folk music. At 10-and-a-half minutes long, it’s a slow burner that sees the band go into trance-like states that isn’t too far away from what Swans have been doing recently, with drummer Jason Roeder and bassist Dave Edwardson providing a rhythm that keeps the listener on edge for a few minutes. They know the last push is coming, but they just don’t know when…and then, at the eight-minute mark, it happens. A demented rhythmic crescendo that sees guitars coming in from all directions at the fore, with Scott Kelly spewing forth lyrics that teases the finish with words that rhyme with the name of the track, and the moment he finally does end with the word “reach”, everything – the guitars, bass, drums, keys and such – drops out, giving so much emphasis on that one word, a word which sums up the manifestation of searching that has been at the band’s core for so long.
At 40 minutes long and with just 5 tracks, it’s a particularly brief offering, especially when their last two efforts have been 20-30 minutes longer. But despite this, Neurosis show us that there is no need for them to overstay their welcome with ambient post-apocalyptic atmospheres of the past. Instead, they’ve presented themselves at their most raw, their most natural and at their most realistic they’ve ever sounded. The heart and soul of Fires Within Fires lies with that lyric, “Peeling skin away, reveals the heart”, because that’s what they have done here, and they’ve managed to achieve that perfectly on this album.
1. Bending Light
2. A Shadow Memory
3. Fire Is The End Lesson
4. Broken Ground
Neurosis – Fires Within Fires line-up:
Scott Kelly – Vocals, guitar
Dave Edwardson – Bass, backing vocals
Jason Roeder – Drums, percussions
Steve Von Till– Guitar, vocals
Noah Landis – Keyboards, synthesizers, effects, backing vocals