Neurosis is a band that is known for balance. Ever since 1992’s Souls at Zero, the Oakland legends have constantly found new ways to integrate acoustic, ambient and avant-garde elements into their ultra-heavy brand of sludge metal. Even 2001’s A Sun that Never Sets, which injects a heavy dose of folk and blues elements into the mix, still manages to achieve a beautiful harmony between soft and heavy, dark and light.
More recently, Neurosis has struggled to simultaneously maintain its identity and continue to innovate. 2004’s The Eye of Every Storm left the metallic dimension at the fringes of the compositions; the result was a Neurosis album in name, but not in sound. The group seemed to recognize they had strayed too far and in 2007 released Given to the Rising, their darkest, heaviest and most emotionally demanding album since 1996’s Through Silver in Blood. However, Given to the Rising is perhaps a little too retro; though it is a riveting album, it lacks the experimental spirit that typifies Neurosis.
Neurosis’s latest offering, Honor Found in Decay regains equilibrium, providing a number of new sounds while preserving the group’s core features: dense riffs, tribal drum patterns, doomy tempos and Steve von Till’s blending of bluesy croons and grizzly roars. Though the primary sounds are similar to those found on other Neurosis albums, they are employed to create a slightly different mood. For the most part, Honor Found in Decay displays a more introspective and less ferocious side of Neurosis. The primary theme of the lyrics is the challenge one faces when trying to let go of his or her past. The songs are littered with images of cleansing, departing and releasing.
Harsher, more violent riffs are employed to depict the burden that is being extricated. For example, “My Heart for Deliverance” starts with riffs that rumble like biblical thunderstorms; yet, their force feels like a distant memory that is still tangible but fading. Von Till sings of “a life spent in broken arms” and yearns for deliverance from his origin. In the second half of the song, he seems to receive that freedom. The music becomes brighter, achieving a gentle catharsis, spearheaded by soaring, rustic string samples. “Bleeding the Pigs” opens and closes with the type of slow, crushing passage that characterized Enemy of the Sun and Through Silver in Blood. However, even here, von Till’s lyrics speak of a cleansing oneself from the past. “Scrape the black tar from your past life,” commands von Till as the song enters its most severe passage.
Keyboardist Noah Landis is in especially strong form throughout the album. Listeners will have a hard time convincing themselves that there are not actual violins, violas and accordions on the album, but apparently all those sounds are the product of Landis’s keyboards. His organ on “Casting of the Ages” is the driving force that makes the song such an epic, toilsome journey. His splattering of eerie beeps and buzzes throughout the album’s quieter passages keeps the audience anticipating the metallic roar that inevitably lays a few bars away.
While the aforementioned tracks display the sort of compositional brilliance that has come to be expected of Neurosis, other songs are surprisingly unfocused. “All is Found… in Time” wanders from one trope to another before ending somewhat randomly. The lethargic and monotonous “Raise the Dawn” breaks the band’s long-standing tradition of ending albums on a high note (though the passage of Asiatic violin and acoustic guitar that close the song is exquisite).
While it’s nice that Neurosis did not simply retread its old footsteps this time out, it’s disappointing that the quality of the compositions is so inconsistent. Most Neurosis albums are powerful journeys that keep the listener hooked form track one to the grand finale; fair or not, Honor Found in Decay fails to live up to that high standard. There is certainly enough quality material on here that fans should not overlook it, but after a five year wait, it would be fair to call Honor Found in Decay a minor disappointment.
Written by Jael Reboh
OurVinyl | Contributor