Groundbreakers: Neurosis’ Souls at Zero

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It is an incredible thing to see an album unleashed that completely alters the course of a musical scene. There are only inklings of its importance at first, those initially small thoughts that turn into hefty declarations of importance. “This is the next big thing” they say, or, “these guys are ready to alter music history. You think to yourself, with each successive listen, that you’re hearing something special. Of course, every album faces one great opponent in their battle for relevancy: Time. Truly, there has been no greater arbiter in the history of music than the almighty clock. Its judgment is rarely swift but it can certainly be brutal, striking down even the most promising bands and albums into obscurity, only ever to be seen again by our own Christian Molenaar.

These albums act like a child with the musical scene as their play-doh, shaping and shifting with an imagination unbound. In heavy metal today, there was perhaps no more important child with play-doh than a young Neurosis. After two decent-but-unremarkable albums of hardcore, these Oakland racket makers raised their middle fingers to their peers and loudly declared “fuck all y’all” while riding off into the sunset in order to record Souls at Zero, an album that set the tone for heavy metal for decades to come.

I’m not old enough to remember the release of Souls at Zero. I was 3 when it dropped, and while I would love to brag about having a super awesome memory and being birthed into this world with wicked musical sensibilities, that would be a falsehood and I just cannot be the one to bring a Brian Williams-esque scenario on this here toilet. I came into metal knowing Neurosis as the folkish, somewhat somber dealers of sonic heft that we know today, the world already molded by their contributions. While it might be difficult for most of us to imagine a world without them (mainly those of us who weren’t adults for the majority of their career thus far), it is easy to see how we got here.

Souls at Zero opens with a subtly ominous bell and quote before erupting into a pummeling whirlwhind of pinch harmonics and wah, slowly fading into a haunting clean melody before the distortion comes back for round 2. This is not the same band that recorded Pain of Mind or Word as Law. There are still traces of their hardcore sound present, including some really aggressive moments (The aforementioned start to “To Crawl Under One’s Skin” and the midsection of “A Chronology for Survival” jump to mind). The sound overall though is a much more measured approach than the Neurosis of old. The songs are slowed down and allowed to breathe with moments of acoustic respite that really let the pained wails of Scott Kelly and Steve Von Till shine through. Perhaps the most important aspect of the album is the tribal drumming of Jason Roeder, best displayed in “The Web”. It sounds absolutely primal and adds a whole new layer of depth and heft to an ambitious new venture. None of this is to downplay the importance of Dave Edwardson, whose basslines rumble along as wickedly as his bellow, or Simon McIlroy whose keyboards add an indispensable texture to the proceedings. Every member plays such a vital role to Souls at Zero. Oh, and have I mentioned the most beautiful flute interlude you’ll ever hear in a metal song?

While the album alone is worth all of the praise heaped upon it, it is the influence from it that is truly astounding. It seems more and more rare to come across an interview where a band ISN’T influenced by Neurosis and the sounds they introduced here. Mastodon, Tool, Pelican, Baroness, Old Man Gloom, and on and on. There are some bands that even owe their whole career to the sound Neurosis pioneered here. I know I’m repeating myself, but the importance of this album simply can’t be overstated. In the earliest parts of a decade marked by the biggest acts selling out, the worst acts getting huge and the underground being dominated by death metal, Souls at Zero offered something new. It was a peak into a glorious future, so let’s celebrate this album. 23 years later it feels as vital as ever. All I ask is that you please play it at the appropriate level.

 

  • CT-12

    Great writeup Leif! I’ve never looked into this album, but I’ve heard enough praise heaped upon it that I’ll have to add it to my neverending playlist.

    • Leif Bearikson

      It had been a while since I listened to this as I tend to stick with their more recent output, so I was surprised at just how well it holds up and how HARD it jams.

  • VVayne Brady

    I remember reading an issue of Metal Hammer years ago where they were asking Mastodon user-submitted questions. One of the questions was something like, “How often do people compare you to Neurosis?” or “Are you going to keep ripping off Neurosis?” They responded with, “We’re totally okay with people thinking we’re Neurosis because they’re the best band ever.”

  • You’re the best goddamn bear with a mustache there ever was.

  • YourLogicIsFlushed

    For whatever reason, I became a huge fan of Isis before I even heard of Neurosis. Everyone kept telling me that if I like one, I should love the other, but for whatever reason Neurosis just never quite touches the things I love about Isis.

    Maybe I am super weird, but as much as I can see the influence, I don’t think their sounds are all that much the same.

    Either way, thanks for the writeup LB, always love reading about the schism points in music/metal.

    • Leif Bearikson

      I was definitely an Isis fan before I was a Neurosis fan, but they never hit me the way they did some folks. Once I have Neurosis a chance though they really clicked. Seeing them live helps, too.

      • Scrimm

        Very good live band.

        • Tyreeling In The Years

          Seeing them in May.

          • Scrimm

            It’s been 19 years, Should probably catch them if they come around again.

          • Pagliacci is Kvlt O)))

            Rub it in.

        • Dagon

          I’ve only watched them on YouTube videos and even with shoddy filming they blow my mind.

          • Scrimm

            I saw them open the first Ozzfest. Cool to see them in a massive venue, even though most of the crowd just kinda looked baffled.

          • Dagon

            I have a book of interviews here in which Scott Kelly says they only agreed to play Ozzfest to be able to watch Black Sabbath live and close.

          • Scrimm

            Strange, cause Black Sabbath wasn’t on that first one. It was Ozzy Slayer, Danzig, Sepultura, Biohazard, Fear Factory and Neurosis. but that was before it was acutaly a tour, it was just a two date festival at first. They were also on the first full tour.

          • Dagon

            Maybe the first full tour is what he meant. I’ll have to go back and check. Or maybe it was lost in translation because the book was written by a brazilian dude who interviewed the bands in English, then translated everything.

          • Scrimm

            I’m sure that’s what he meant. I got there too late on that tour to see them.

      • YourLogicIsFlushed

        If they headline for some other people I want to see I am sure I’ll go at some point. Seeing people live has helped me a few times before.

        • Leif Bearikson

          I liked them before, but seeing them live turned it into a full blown obsession. It’s weird how that works.

          • YourLogicIsFlushed

            Oh man, just saw they are with YOB on tour, but nowhere near me. Damn.

          • Enemy Of The Free World

            Story of my goddern life. Neurosis have been here ONCE so that I could attend, and it was an outside festival, which is not the best environment for them. Saw them anyways, big fan.
            Stones From The Sky>>>>>>>>>>>>>>
            Given To The Rising>>>>>>>>>>>>>>
            Neurosis & Jarboe>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>
            Eye of Every Storm>>>>>>>>>>>>>>
            Give them a proper try if you haven’t.

    • Hubert, Goat ov ……Satan

      You’re super weird.

      • YourLogicIsFlushed

        I know I am wrong. Trying super hard to correct that, but it’s not working.

        • Hubert, Goat ov ……Satan

          To be honest, Neurosis needed to grow on me as well. They’re incredibly good though.

  • Spear

    Toilet confession: I’ve never listened to Neurosis. Will rectify this immediately.

    • CT-12
      • Spear

        I thought I was going to get flushed, but I see they’re actually putting me into the toliet.

        • CT-12

          This should be our recruitment song hahaha

    • It so hard to want to do that when there are tunes by Conquering Dystopia to be listened to!

      • Spear

        As much as I would like to listen to Jeff Loomis forever, I occasionally have to acknowledge that there are other musicians out there.

    • Scrimm

      My personal favorite is Through Silver in Blood.

    • Leif Bearikson

      Can’t go wrong with this, Through Silver in Blood, A Sun that Never Sets or Times of Grace

    • FeelTheDarknesses

      Just start at the beginning with Pain Of Mind and Word As Law!!!!!!!

    • Hubert, Goat ov ……Satan

      Through Silver in Blood is the best damn thing.

    • Maik Beninton

      I’ve never heard of Neurosis. Let me correct myself.

  • Tyreeling In The Years
  • EsusMoose

    I may give this a try later after declaring my disinterest in Neurosis and yet I love post-metal like the hipster corgis that my picture depicts I should probably give them another chance.

    • YourLogicIsFlushed

      I am with you MooseMan. I keep trying, but just can’t get on board with the supposed founders of the beloved genre.

      • EsusMoose

        I like the Isis-variation which includes more post-rock elements while Neurosis to me still sits within the sludge side of post metal

  • FeelTheDarknesses

    I FUCKING LOVE THIS ALBUM!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Dagon

    Fuck new music, as soon as I finish what I have to do I’m gonna be jamming this for the rest of the day.

  • Hubert, Goat ov ……Satan

    I’ve only listened to Times of Grace and Through Silver in Blood. Will check this one out soon!
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=omKId6Lhr3A

    • VVayne Brady

      Both of those albums are where Neurosis really solidified their sound.

  • Dagon

    I have a tattoo of a dragon with two heads on my crotch. One is Scott Kelly’s and the other is Steve Von Till’s. Don’t even get me started on how uncomfortable it was when the scales of my tail started scabbing.

    • Rubber Balls And Liquor

      Lol, I’ve always thought of getting a tattoo of Gonzo from The Muppets on my crotch. I think you already know where the nose would be!

  • Neurosis ranks as one of the best live performances I can remember. I was under the influence of hard liquor and weed which further enhanced it. They were crushing to say the least.

    • Edward/Breegrodamus

      I’ve listened to Neurosis but I love everyone’s admissions about not listening to them, lol. It’s something I have admired about many people in this group. You guys ❤

      • we’re just a bunch of honest Abe’s
        http://www.clone-high.com/images/char/char_abe.gif

      • Dagon

        I was actually pretty surprised by this. But then I remembered that death metal and black metal are vastly more popular than post-metal in general.

        Sometimes you can assume people like the same things you do as much as you do just because they frequent the same site. Which is ridiculous, if you think about it.

        • Edward/Breegrodamus

          I would say it’s safe to say that black metal and death metal are more popular than post-metal around here, but do you think death and black are vastly more popular than post outside of here? I know a lot of post stuff has gotten a big following and it’s generally more accessible.

          • Rubber Balls And Liquor

            Well, post metal is still relatively new as well.

          • Edward/Breegrodamus

            Trvth.

          • Dagon

            I think it’s more accessible to an outside audience, but that outside audience tends to be somewhat restrict. It’s a very specific demographic.

            Using facebook likes as a termometer, even bands that had major backing from sites like Pitchfork are somewhat around 100,000 likes (Deafheaven). Neurosis, Isis and Pelican are around that mark as well.

            What I’m trying to say is that post-metal’s crossover appeal is prevalent in a small group of individuals outside the metal world, whereas bands like Death and Immortal may have little crossover appeal yet by far exceed Neurosis’ popularity.

      • J.R.

        I’d never heard of them until just now. So, whatever that’s about. Im enjoying it so far. Not quite my jam but I’ll need to explore more of their discography before I make my verdict.

    • frozengoatsheadupanunsarse

      That’s a good looking bear. I like bears ’cause they’re big and furry.

      • and hugable.

        • frozengoatsheadupanunsarse

          One of my bucket list items is to hug every kind of bear.

  • JVVG

    Neurosis is the band everyone thinks I mean when I ask if they have any Neuraxis

    …and, strangely, sometimes vice versa

  • VVayne Brady

    I’m very excited to see Groundbreakers goes!

    • it’s a wonderful idea! i’m always being chased off @jayalanbadfail:disqus’s front lawn, so i’d really have to think about one i could write…

  • zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

    1st vid full vol–2nd vid muted–3rd vid muted-
    all at once
    https://youtu.be/ZAApRmtUY8k

    https://youtu.be/wmmjPHlj3NA

    https://youtu.be/DqzczktODbg

  • Stockhausen

    I’ve only been exposed to newer Neurosis. This is rill good.

  • Jormungandr

    This is really good! Thank you bear.

  • Rubber Balls And Liquor

    Loves me some Neurosis! I keep forgetting, but I have a Tribes Of Neurot CD laying somewhere in my collection.

    • Enemy Of The Free World

      The Times of Grace double experience is pretty gnarly.

      • Dr. Dubz

        It feels weird listening to Under the Surface without the Neurot noises underneath now.

  • frozengoatsheadupanunsarse

    Most times I listen to a band that people describe as like a religious experience I just wind up finding it cheesy. Neurosis are… not one of those bands. Quality write up of a beaut of an album. My personal fave is Neurosis + Jarboe because I’m a nerd like that, but they basically all rule butts.

  • FeelTheDarknesses

    Souls, Sun and Silver is the trio of excellence.

  • Flush00Gordon

    You were born the year I graduated from high school? Fuck off!

    • Dr. Dubz

      Babies having babies, dude.