Friday, September 24, 2010

Neurosis - Live at Roadburn 2007

I recently got a double burst of Neurosis dropped in my lap, a sensation not all that different than having a bowling dropped on your junk. But unlike the bowling ball incident, the Neurosis treatment was something that I enjoyed and wish would happen more often. Neurosis is a band that folks either love or just don’t get. I, for one, love them to death and quite frankly can’t be certain if I get them in the least. There’s just something about the primordial droning and hypnotic waves of distortion, the assault of sonic destruction that draws me to these guys like a woman to a shoe sale. The two albums that made their way into my possession and subsequent consciousness are the re-issue of the classic Enemy of the Sun (brilliant album in its original state, even better with the added tracks) and the more recent Live at Roadburn 2007. There’s nothing new that I could write about Enemy of the Sun, so I’ll just leave it as it’s a must have, therefore stop reading this and go get it before reading on. Live at Roadburn 2007, however, is new for me and something that I can’t stop listening to.

I figure that I have a few screws loose, I didn’t get the proper nurturing as a child, or I just don’t get enough sleep to make the extreme noise parade that Neurosis produces something I look forward to. It’s not the kind of music that I typically gravitate towards in that the music doesn’t have the ballsy guitar riffs or mighty mosh parts or variation of mood that makes me punch drunk. But, that’s not to say that this music is any less dynamic. In fact, the music that Neurosis creates is arguably more dynamic than the better half of modern music it’s just that these guys just do it with volume and tone. Filled with imposing phrases and dark words, the detuned, heavy music creates an element of dread and sorrow, hopelessness for the future on mankind, yet . . . I find it completely fascinating! Like when we’re driving and catch a glimpse of roadkill . . . no, we don’t think it’s beautiful, but we all take a long glance at the deceased if not for fascination then for the hope that we can distinguish the breed of critter. That sensation is about the closest analogy I can come up with for Neurosis.

Okay, on with the album. “A Season In The Sky” is a majestic, near ten minute epic of dread and despair. The bass line that creeps out of the fog sets the tone for this song right off the bat and one can easily get the sense that something ominous is upon us. As the vocals enter, the chills run up the spine and the mind races through the wild imagery that’s being strewn across our minds’ eye. This is one of those cases where a band doesn’t need to utilize thrashing drums and cutting guitars to be heavy. The subject matter, the performance, the vocal tones, the bass tones . . . all of it is done with such intensity that the heaviness is more of a matter of fact than studio trickery. It’s well over four minutes before the rest of the band chimes in to make their presence known, but when they do, they don’t pummel us into submission as one might expect, but rather compliment the tones that have already been set. In time, the detuned guitars take center stage and the overbearing weight of the Neurosis that we’ve come to misunderstand and love shine on.

“At the End of the Road” follows next and clocks in at about eight and a half minutes. This track opens with a pulsating drone and steady tom attack from the drummer, creating yet again, a sense of dread and impending doom. This is the Neurosis that I seem to like the best . . . a band that channels their primitive ancestors, communicating in a primordial sense, generating a dark tribal vibe. This intro always makes me feel like it should have been part of the Apocalypse Now soundtrack. I hear this song and I’m transported to the jungles of Vietnam . . . or Cambodia . . . or Laos, you pick, and I’m creeping through the dense foliage with only survival on my mind. Rain pours down periodically while shadows shift along my peripheral vision, always make me turn my head to catch a cleaner view of what’s out there and only finding more jungle . . . always knowing that I’m being watched . . . being hunted. Right around the 5:30 mark, the song opens up, finds a groove and we get that pummeling sensation that Neurosis mastered long, long ago. The bass notes come from various places on the neck of the instrument, the guitars carry the weight of ages, the drums like a heartbeat in a darkened room . . . deafening.

“Distill” is another gem on this album. There’s more groove to this song than most of the others during this particular performance. I love the chaotic burst that explodes as the vocals enter the mix. One guitar is creating a sustained droning tone while the second guitar emits flurries of distorted notes. Masterful! And then the whole thing collapses into ambiance. The guitars suddenly go clean and subtle arpeggios are plucked from the instruments . . . and then BOOM! Chaos ensues once again! When listening to Neurosis this is to be expected. You may want to hear the band go into a long, extended riff frenzy, but know that they’re not gonna’. Their always going to take their music in a direction that is so left of center that it almost feels like they have no direction. But that’s when we as listeners need to stop and rethink how we perceive music. The ambient portions of this song are flat out scary, the rocking portions are devastatingly heavy.

“Water Is Not Enough” is a classic. I’ve heard this song in my sleep for a million years, making me think that I’m must be related to this alien race of musicians in some way, shape or form. Brutally heavy and everything one would expect in association when the name Neurosis is mentioned. One of the band’s shorter tracks at almost six and a half minutes, “Water Is Not Enough” is darn near accessible. The riffs are condensed, but the textures that they create shift the brain fluid from one side of the head to the other, creating a dizzying effect. Slow and steady, hard and heavy, music Neurosis-style . . .

Most people won’t have the patience for a band like Neurosis because the music takes time to get the end of the tale. It’s almost like reading one of Stephen King’s 1,000 word epics, or any James Mischner novel, the story takes time to develop, always building upon itself, incorporating various levels of nuance, until we get to the very end and sit back breathless, thinking to ourselves, “Holy shit.” Live at Roadburn 2007 is a fabulous recording partially due to the bands ability to perform music from their catalog and still create the dynamic mood and tones almost effortlessly. I also like that the crowd noise is at a minimum on this recording. I don’t mind crowd noise on live efforts, especially when we get to hear them chant along with the songs a la Iron Maiden or Rush, but in the case of Neurosis, I like that the focus is purely on the band and their ability to pull off the performance in a live setting versus the relative safety of the studio. Live at Roadburn 2007 is a good starting point for anyone interested in learning more about the band and hearing what they’re all about. Beyond that, Enemy of the Sun is a can’t miss.  -  Pope

buy here:  Live at Roadburn 2007
mp3: Live at Roadburn 2007

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