Fires Within Fires
Over their 30 year history Neurosis has mined deep under the surface of heavy music, seemingly pulling a limitless wealth of valuable ore from the earth itself and fashioning it into a variety of shapes and pigments. They have covered nearly everything from Crust to Post-Rock without concern to convention and without stagnating in their own rituals. Simply put, Neurosis does Neurosis.
20 years ago Through Silver In Blood left a high and filthy water mark for the band and for metal as a whole. It’s a record that is perhaps best understood in the context of mainstream metal in the mid-90s; for instance, consider the jarring difference between the Oakland band and their fellow Ozzfest initiates in 1996. While their newest effort Fires Within Fires doesn’t change much for the status quo of Neurosis–especially post-A Sun That Never Sets, it perhaps sets it’s own paradigm for the band going forward, more so than their previous two records. It almost acts as a pamphlet for understanding Neurosis as a band within themselves. It strikes at the heart of what makes them who they are and seeks a deeper understanding of their existence. It’s also an example of a band still, remarkably creatively alive so far into their career.
The opening track “Bending Light” explores three different phases of the band in just a few minutes before any vocals are heard. There’s a simple riff, a shuffling groove and swirling synths that slither into bizarre textures and a dissonant, twisting melody slightly that also drop out to allow not quite calming, but gentler waves of guitar and synth before a patented blast of pure, Neurosis sludge launches into the song proper as eventually Scott Kelly is joined by another voice to echo the line “peels the skin away, reveals the heart” that accurately defines the record as a whole. Fires Within Fires is rife with cyclical and meditative imagery that are all recognizable from Neurosis typical iconography, they are especially well delivered here and point to an understanding of the band’s legacy and humanity. From that thunderous first track through “A Shadow Memory” the band is almost unrelenting, with wave after wave swelling until nearly becoming redundant. There are only a few, paradoxical moments of sweetness and light in the former half of the record such as the ascending bass line near the midpoint of “Fire Is the End Lesson” but it quickly snaps into a venomous lurch; another serpentine twist into heaviness before a sheet of shrill guitar slices through the stomping groove cloak half-mumbled vocals. It’s a dynamic that Neurosis have become masters of, to pull off such subtlety within almost pure noise. Finally though, “Broken Ground” offers our first true glimpse of light, but it is still an eerie light that just begins to creep over the horizon. It’s one of the more truly beautiful songs the band has written in quite some time, even as it falls into another downward swing of the pendulum, but not without swinging back towards the melodic as Kelly reflects on mortality with the lines “mounds of earth we build on high, in barrows our remains shall lie, trouble sleeps where dead men stare…” Those lyrics are refracted on the more unsettled “Reach” as two voices in a gravelly harmony render “head to the mountains and choose where to die, they’ll never see all that we see.” The swaying, push and pull of the impressionistic tone painting that slowly unfurls is subverted as one last noxious wave of sludge dives and soars until the sluice is shut so abruptly that Kelly’s last gasp of the word “reach” sputters off his lips so audibly that the last sound heard on the record is the kind of non-musical noise–his tongue and pallet cutting off the sound from his mouth–that on most records would be edited out, but remains intact here; one last snarl at convention.