Published Feb 01, 2000Evolution is a funny thing. It can take millions of years for a decaying sun to collapse into a black hole, in turn becoming the densest and most destructive force in the galaxy. Yet it took just 14 years for Relapse recording artists Neurosis to accomplish the sonic equivalent.
Neurosis is much more than a mere metal band - it is an artistic project gone horribly astray while retaining moments of beauty among the brutality. Their sound, elements of which have been stolen by better known bands like Sepultura, Soulfly and half the metal/hardcore scene, is constantly evolving, yet retains the common threads of damaging metal riffs, violent percussive rumblings and serene orchestrated moments.
With the impending release of their sixth album, Times of Grace , Neurosis is once again poised to heave a dagger at the heart of musical mediocrity. Breaking from tradition, Neurosis decided to record perhaps their most anticipated album with engineering semi-legend Steve Albini (Big Black, Nirvana, PJ Harvey), instead of long time producer Billy Anderson (Melvins, Eyehategod, Mr. Bungle). On the line from his home, Scott Kelly (guitars, vocals, percussion), elaborates.
"We were really curious about what Steve would be able to do with what we do. We weren't really considering it too seriously and we were happy with Billy, but we just had a feeling about Steve. We talked to him and he was really receptive. We found that not only did he have the time, that he was into it and he was reasonable also, so we decided to give it shot and it worked out," Kelly explains.
"We thought Steve's approach to recording would lend itself to what we're doing in an opposite sort of way," he continues. "We have a real problem with cluttery, noisy sounding songs and he has a way of getting everything really clear and crisp. He is the master of the drum sound and since we use [a lot of] drums and percussion, it was a real plus."
The end result is perhaps Neurosis's clearest, most concise and progressive release to date. Still, the new found clarity was not just the result of Albini's "what you hear is what you get" recording techniques, but also a decision by the band themselves.
"We made a real conscious effort when we were writing this album to leave a lot of air in the songs, and not have as much density for the sake of density. Half the shit we have in there people can't even hear anyway, so we just set out to take a more lean and mean approach with this one."
Clearly, the Neurosis legacy is important to Kelly and the other members of the band - Dave Edwarson (bass, vocals, Moog), Noah Landis (keyboards, samples, sound manipulation), Jason Roeder (drums, percussion), Steve Von Till (guitars, vocals, percussion) and Pete Inc (live visual media).
"Legacy is definitely a big thing with us; we are conscious of leaving our work here and doing it right," Kelly explains. "I think it is essential that our work withstand the test of time - it should never, ever, reach the point where it is tired. There should always be some aspect that you can draw on.
There is something to be said for beating your head against a wall and screaming for 12 years.
"After we reached the end of the cycle for the last album, we had a moment of clarity and that is where the title for Times of Grace came from. We felt we could see things for what they are, [and]we were able to make some conscious, solid steps in the way we are going and what we are doing. This album is maybe our most introspective and maybe our most comfortable one with what we are doing and who we are. There is something to be said for beating your head against a wall and screaming for 12 years and all of a sudden you break through."
To coincide with the release ofTimes of Grace , Neurosis's noise persona Tribes of Neurot has created a companion CD simply entitledGrace . This second CD is designed to be played simultaneously withTimes of Grace , with the goal of enhancing the sonic architecture. It is also meant to convey the same emotional textures on its own. It's an ambitious project to say the least, one that is inspired more by fiction than by reality.
"There's a Flaming Lips project where they put out four CDs to be played together, but our main inspiration was the myth about Pink Floyd andThe Wizard of Oz . The myth is that if you start Dark Side of the Moon at the time the lion roars inThe Wizard of Oz , supposedly they sync up. We thought 'What if that was real? What if it really worked?' So that's what we went for - making two things that work separately, but work together to make something more.
"What we're hoping it does is create an active listening experience for people," Kelly continues, "so that they'll have to get a couple of CD players, hook up with some friends and put some effort into it. At that point it'll put a little more control into the listener's hands. It just adds another dimension to the listening experience."
As any Neurosis fan can attest, many of the band's visual and lyrical cues point to a deep, if vague spiritual conviction. While Scott is loathe to tear away the veil, he is willing to speak in broad generalisations.
"We don't necessarily fly one flag, and we don't hand out leaflets, but there is the personal interest in religion/mythology that we've always had. What we've discovered is that music is our religion, that our mythology and beliefs have come through our dedication to music and our hard work and perseverance. In a way, stringing up the guitar and getting ready to play is our sacrament and we go out there and do our ritual every night.
"We've always been about expressing our souls and what is deepest inside in kind of an open way. We started as cavemen, with really vague ideas about what we wanted to do. We knew what we didn't want to do and the whole thing is just really kind of built around that. I feel that when we do our thing, there is something else there - always has been. There is something very powerful that runs through us as a group. Neurosis is our church."
Fourteen years is an eternity in the world of music, even more so for a band that has existed on the fringes of the punk and metal scenes since its inception. With many of their peers and contemporaries succumbing to the inevitable break up, Scott sees sacrifice and friendship as the secrets to both longevity and creativity.
"The key to our survival is friendship; the commitment to Neurosis came with the friendship. I think we all realised we have something very unique and special and it only exists with the six of us. It's basically a real heavy brotherhood, and something that once you've made your commitment there is only one way out of it and that is in a pine box. It takes total commitment to do what we do for as long as we have - there is just no other way to do it."