Neurosis have been a part of this world for an almost unheard of 30 years, and by this point in their career they mean so many things to so many people that it would be hard to accurately sum up the band’s influence in words. Perhaps their closest peers in terms of longevity and importance are Metallica, but for Neurosis there have never been any of the more regrettable Metallica moments; no albums that desperately reach out for the mainstream, no stretch of albums widely regarded as their dark period, and certainly no chunk of their career that is worth forgetting. Neurosis have consistently put out “good” to “classic” albums their entire existence, none of which sounds like it’s predecessor, so the release of new Neurosis album is a pretty big deal. Can a band 30 years old really add to their legacy, or will they tarnish it? Have they finally started to coast?
It should probably come as no surprise that, 30 years on, Neurosis are by no means resting on their laurels. On the contrary, even: Fires Within Fires may well be the strongest they’ve released in their later years. While a lot of their recent albums have seen the band embracing their folksier side, Fires Within Fires sticks with a more primal approach that will remind many of Times of Grace or Through Silver in Blood. Unlike those albums though, this one spends very little time building or setting you up. Fires Within Fires goes for the throat, or at least as “for the throat” as Neurosis gets.
The band has not forgotten their softer, more exploratory side. Those moments are here in spades, they just don’t seem to last as long as they used to. Everything here seems trimmed down to bare minimum, no section nor song overstays its welcome, no extended feedback sections or extended acoustic intros. To call the album lean would be an unfair assessment because while each song is relatively short by Neurosis standards, they all still contain the same amount of depth and complexity we’ve come to expect from the band.
“Bending Light” starts in a slow, mellow drone, the guitar’s otherworldly tone bringing a simple but catchy melody that slowly fades until, on the brink of silence, one of those classic distorted Neurosis riffs kicks in. Scott Kelly, his voice aged like a fine wine, snarls over top “Peeling the skin away / reveals the heart” as the rest of the band crashes like a violent wave. That violence is counterbalanced with all but the briefest respites of beauty. The hefty main riff of “A Shadow Memory” is simplified and stripped of it’s distortion a few minutes in and is transformed to one of the more wonderfully reflective moments on the album.
The closing one-two punch of “Broken Ground” and “Reach” are perhaps the most melodic songs on the album and also the most memorable. “Broken Ground” could easily be in the upper echelon of the band’s catalog, combining everything the band has ever done into one nearly 9 minute hydra. From somber entrance, to ragged-yet-melodic Scott Kelly croon, to the absolutely fist pumping riffs and it’s final descent into oblivion. It’s a song that displays Neurosis at their absolute best.
The incredible production of long time partner Steve Albini isn’t wholly unexpected, but still helps to elevate the material. The bass is warm and always present, easily picked out even in the albums most chaotic moments, and Jason Roeder makes his presence known without ever feeling overpowering. Meanwhile the guitars are the nastiest they’ve sounded in years and thicker than the base of a redwood. Everything is so clear and forward that if you listen with a decent set of headphones or speakers you’ll swear the band is playing in front of you.
It’s borderline unreal that three decades into their existence Neurosis are still making incredible and affecting music. Music that’s still relevant and that people can get excited about. Maybe the band will decide to call it a day and end their career on an incredibly high note, but I can’t imagine that being the case. Fires Within Fires shows that this Oakland quintet is still burning bright and should be for a long while.
5 out of 5 Flaming Toilets ov Hell
Fires Within Fires comes out September 23rd. You can preorder it here.