There’s heavy and then there’s Neurosis. For thirty years original band members Scott Kelly, Dave Edwarson and Jason Roeder have gradually disciplined their abrasive style, whilst curbing the rapid blasts of earlier works like ‘Pain In Mind’ in the process. Despite bidding farewell to their hardcore roots over two decades ago, Oakland’s Neurosis continues to attract a visible mixture of crust punks and metalheads to their thunderous din.
Without a doubt, their 1999 album Times of Grace, released on Relapse, stands out as the definitive Neurosis record. Although their five previous studio albums pushed heaviness to every extreme, it’s their sixth effort which encapsulates the recognisable Neurosis sound. It’s the sound of a band exercising self-restraint. Each single note on this album is deliberate and direct, and there is nothing left out of place. Even when drums and guitars battle for dominance during Times of Grace’s most crushing moments, an eerie harmony preserves the cohesive nature of the music.
It’s suggested that the introduction of Steve Albini to the recording process helped Neurosis unlock this forceful style of writing. Albini, a production guru, has built a reputation unearthing many a band’s innate talent and consequently brings much needed focus to song writing proceedings. Sonically, you can thank Albini again for the raw production qualities that have kept Neurosis a firm favourite within the underground. His punk-as-fuck credentials have clearly rubbed off on Neurosis as they steer clear of slick metal production techniques that leave albums sounding flat and over processed. The success of this partnership has seen Albini return to his role as producer on every Neurosis record following the release of Times of Grace.
Photo: Neil Zlozower
This black or white approach to songwriting is evident in the first two songs. The fragile arrangement of album opener, Suspended in Light, is soon flattened as the second track, The Doorway, steamrolls in and, over the next seven minutes, sets the tone for the majority of this album. Neurosis explore light and shade but rarely mix the two. Four minutes into Under The Surface, as the guitars are at their most punishing, we return to calm. In this instance, the quiet, rather than serving as a respite, raises the tension before the guitars and drums devour the peace and return to their destructive form.
The album certainly isn’t one dimensional. On a track like Belief, we’re not far from the atmospherics of gothic acts like the Cure and Joy Division while End of the Harvest brings early Pink Floyd to mind. Such comparisons are hard to imagine, but the influence of prog rock and new wave in Neurosis’ music is undeniable. The band’s experimentation even stretches to the use of bagpipes on the Descent, cellos on Away and various synth sounds throughout the record.
When compared to other albums in Neurosis’ back catalogue, Times of Grace is by far the most rewarding listen. The songs may reach the nine-minute mark on occasion, but they have to if the intention is to leave a lasting impression. To this day, Neurosis continue to act as the elder statesmen for doom metal and while this release reveals a band that has shed its punk skin, the menace and attitude of those early years is certainly alive and well in their music.