The experimental and extreme music scenes today would be completely different, probably for the worse, if it was not for the influence that Neurosis have had on numerous bands through the late '90s and early '00s. Starting off as a hardcore punk band in the late '80s, Neurosis went through a perpetual evolution, acquiring additional elements, revealing a plethora of diverse influences, embracing atmosphere and psychedelic tones, revealing an emotional depth, all aspects that were very ahead of their time.
In 2012 the band released their tenth full-length in Honor Found In Decay, coming five years after the colossal Given To The Rising, it followed the tradition that they initiated in A Sun That Never Sets and their late-period era. The music evolved to a meditative, experimental, post-rock/sludge perspective. Fires Within Fires arrives four years after Honor Found In Decay, marking the band's thirtieth anniversary. Once again working with Steve Albini, a guy that gets perfectly what the band is trying to achieve, they entered the studio.
The first thing that someone notices is that Fires Within Fires is a significantly shorter album, duration-wise, than its predecessor. It actually was Enemy of the Sun in 1993, when the band most recently clocked a record to around forty minutes. Considering that the band is actually making a return, of sorts, to that era, the duration acts as a significant boost, to focus the energy of the material. Essentially Fires Within Fires feels like a mid-period Neurosis record, stylistically and compositionally it is closer to the triptych of Enemy of the Sun, Through Silver In Blood and Times of Grace.
What is very prominent is, as always, the combination of a slow sludge perspective and the hardcore element. That has been the case with later Neurosis records, however the conviction with which the riffs are coming down, and the energy of the band points towards their earlier days. Where the latter albums of Neurosis had a meditative quality, combined perfectly with their big experimental sound, this record condenses the weight and attitude within a state of anguish. It is a more direct offering, making the overwhelming aspect of Neurosis' vision come to the forefront. Even the vocal lines of Von Till and Kelly are delivered with more aggression, instead of shamanistic quality that was so intoxicating in their later albums.
The post-rock elements retain their majestic tones, as the clean parts of “A Shadow Memory” and the mid-parts of “Reach” let on, with their energy leaking further into the psychedelic dimension. The effects of Landis are completely crushing, granting at times a fiery scenery, or a hypnotizing trance. Through the years Neurosis had include Josh Graham (of A Storm of Light) to provide visual companions to their music, to the point that his departure in 2012 felt like the end of an era that would possibly leave the band poorer. But the visual aesthetic was inherit in Neurosis' vision from the start, and although Graham did a great job of bringing it that forth, the band does not have any issues creating a visual dimension simply through their experimental outlook. The manner in which they controls the dynamics of their tracks alone radiates with this aspect, knowing exactly when to accelerate, when to go into a trance, or throw the heavy riffs, retreat to a state of tribal ritualism, everything is forced to their will, resulting in one hell of a trip.
The core of Neurosis has lied in the emotion that their albums are able to awaken. It is a rare form of honesty, with the band not being afraid to embrace that side, presenting moments of grief and melancholy, or anguish and pain. The delicate melodies of “Broken Ground” and the dual vocals of “Reach” showcase perfectly this quality in Neurosis' ethos, and in Fires Within Fires we see the return of the more agonizing version of the band, the strive towards some form of catharsis.
Thirty years is a very long time for any band, and one could expect that Neurosis might appear tired of the process. Fires Within Fires is a testament to the exact opposite, as Kelly, Von Till, Edwardson, Landis and Roeder appear rejuvenated through this endeavour. Their journey has been a mystical, agonizing path towards enlightenment. And every time you let yourself believe they have reached this goal, they prove you wrong and have another go at it.
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