Most bands can barely pull off an album every two years without self-imploding. Factor in that nine times out of ten, as a band ages, so does it music – and more often then not, it ages poorly. Their ideas become watered down and repetitive. They disconnect from the initial spark that ignited their passion. They lose touch with that part of them that was once a well-spring of inspiration and emotion. Then we have Neurosis. Thirty years and eleven full-lengths. Minimal line up changes. A towering and well-deserved reputation. Boiled down to it, Neurosis are more than just the five man who compose this project. They’re a force of nature. A glimpse into the light and darkness which masks every facet of our world. Each album serves a introspective journey into not only their vision, but what it means to the listener as well.
Fires Within Fires marks yet another chapter in the story of Neurosis. And to be honest, this is a difficult review to write for me. Because in my eyes, this band has never erred or put anything out other than high-caliber, thought-provoking music. From their earliest releases to now, Neurosis have consistently broke the bar in terms of what they deliver. So yes, having such a lofty opinion and love of this band might hinder me in terms of being subjective. But then again, this is Neurosis we’re talking about. To have great expectations – and have them met – is par for the course when it comes to this band. But the real challenge when dissecting Fires Within Fires is grasping the emotional thread that connects the band and this album, to their legacy.
I could sit here and hammer out a thousand words about each album. I could write two thousand words comparing them against each other. Maybe it’s just me, but I tend to have certain times of the year for each of Neurosis’s albums. The dog-days of summer are marked by heavy rotations of A Sun That Never Sets, while the brutal, east coast winters get my all time favorite Times of Grace as their background soundtrack. And now we have Fires Within Fires, which be released on September 23rd. The second day of Fall, which seems like a fitting, if not a deliberate move on their part. This album just locks into that feeling of inevitable change. From ripe fruit slowing transitioning into decaying matter. Those jubilant days that slowly blend into solemn moments of reflection as one stares into a hearth.
From the moment “Bending Light” breaks the seal of this record, it’s apparent – yet again – that Neurosis have matured even further within their blend of styles. The thunderous opening grabs your attention before they quickly tone it down and lull the listener into a soft bed cradled by their guitars and noise elements. But even as one feels their eyelids getting heavy and soul feeling safe and nurtured, in the back of your head is this one notion: Neurosis will be dropping the sonic hammer any moment now. And when they do, we’re all reminded how easy this band makes it look and sound.
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One of Neurosis’s key components over the years has been their ability to engage the listener. They’re guiding on us on a shared journey, one born from within their hearts and painted across the world via their instruments and voices. “A Shadow Quest” and “Fire Is The End Lesson” serve as a battering ram against the gates that lead further into the heart of Fires Within Fires. Both songs permeate with a sense of tempered rage and forethought into each move. From the gloomy, rain soaked “A Shadow Quest,” the triumphant scaling of the Mount Kilimanjaro-sized “Fire Is The End Lesson,” they’ve always been masters of knowing how to traverse the flow of a song. And it shows abundantly this far into the album.
With the fact that this release is five songs, my biggest concern was that it wouldn’t feel “complete.” Even with the length of the songs being taken into consideration, the fear still lingered. Thankfully, that gnawing concern was washed away with the arrival of “Broken Ground,” its shiny, metallic opening paces itself into the darker, heavier segments. The always in touch use of noise by Noah Landis. That ability of the band to navigate between the more reflective nature of this song into the oppressively heavy middle and end portion exudes a confidence. A masterful understanding of keeping us, the listener engaged and transfixed. Up until this point, I was absolutely enjoying this album. But hearing this song and then rewinding it a million times left me out of breath. It’s Neurosis showing us their best. And it resonates throughout the scope of this song and across the whole record.
Which leaves us with the final song, “Reach.” After the initial picking myself up of the floor from the previous track, the knowledge that this voyage was coming to an end dawned upon me in what might be the band’s most emotionally-driven song since “Away” stole my heart on Times of Grace all those years ago. It focuses more on the softer side of the band, resonating across a sea of eight minutes that slip by, only being broken by the abrupt insertion of a mountain crumbling ending. A closing that lends a much deeper chasm of emotions to be found in Fires Within Fires.
While only five songs, this album might just be the best thing they’ve done since A Sun That Never Sets. Each each song is crafted in the truest, most pure fashion that Neurosis have come to be known for. One will never notice the time spent on the sojourn that is this album. The sound is expansive, engaging, refined and full of moments that re-enforce this five-piece’s place in the history books. Yet again, they’ve tapped into a part of the cosmos that only they hear. Fires Within Fires only solidifies that feeling beyond what I thought they were capable of. Consider this album yet another magnificent jewel to be placed atop their crown.
11/07/2016 Koko – London, UK w/ Earth [tickets]