Beer and Metal: First listen to Neurosis's Honor Found in Decay | Bleader

Beer and Metal: First listen to Neurosis's Honor Found in Decay

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Tomorrow Neurosis release Honor Found in Decay (Neurot), their tenth studio album. It's been five years since the hugely influential Bay Area-based band put out Given to the Rising, making this the longest gap between releases in their 27-year career. Neurosis recorded it with Steve Albini, sort of a band tradition going back to 1999's Times of Grace—during their stays in his Chicago studio, Electrical Audio, vocalist and guitarist Scott Kelly often plays shows in town. Alas, Neurosis haven't followed his example. They aren't even touring to support the new record—on November 17 they'll throw a release party in Oakland with Voivod and Yob, but that's the only stateside date they've got on the books. Befitting their venerable status in the metal world (and probably as a direct consequence of the fact that members live in Idaho and Oregon as well as California), Neurosis tend to do "event" shows or big festivals when they play at all.

I'm most definitely not the first to weigh in on Honor Found in Decay—I only just got a promo copy on Friday—but after what I got up to at Saturday's Halloween party, I'm not about to review another beer this week. (Plus Kelly has been sober for ten or eleven years, so it'd feel somehow disrespectful.) Instead I'll pile on with some thoughts about Neurosis and my first impressions of the new album.

I've seen Neurosis only once, in Houston in 1993, when they'd just released the crushingly apocalyptic Enemy of the Sun. They played a notoriously shitty, angry venue that had gone through several incarnations, and I can't remember whether at the time it was called Catal Huyuk or Harvey's Club Deluxe. (It had previously been the Axiom, and even earlier Cabaret Voltaire.) Harvey's got its name—if you'll permit me a digression—from an elderly black gentleman with a profound drinking habit who always seemed to be there. He lived in the neighborhood—one of very few people who still did, as it was only vestigially residential. I remember mostly warehouses that may or may not have been in use and derelict buildings apparently of some indeterminate industrial purpose. Grass grew through cracks in the streets. (I moved away from Houston in 1994, but a little Internet research tells me that the club's former site is near a soccer stadium that opened this year, and in Google Street View at least the area is unrecognizable to me—the transformation apparently began with the construction of a baseball park a few blocks away in the late 90s.)

My friends and I joked that you knew you were a regular at Harvey's once Harvey had peed on you. (I did say he was a drinker.) He got me twice: Once I was sitting next to him at the bar when he let loose against it, startling me off my stool with the backspatter. The other time I was walking out of the men's room and passed him in the hall headed in—he'd started to relieve himself there, a good 15 feet from the urinals, and I was unable to squeak by unscathed because the stream swung from side to side with his gait.

When in his cups, which he invariably was at the club, Harvey was almost incomprehensible. In more animated moods he'd point at a particular corner of the ceiling (always the same one) and carry on vehemently and at length. My good friend Claire, who worked there (and for a dark stretch lived upstairs), listened to him often enough and carefully enough to finally sort out what he was saying. It turned out—and this is the whole reason I brought him up in the first place—that one of Harvey's daughters had been born in that building, many years before. At the time it was either a drugstore or a grocery store, and her mother went into labor on a shopping trip. The staff helped her upstairs to the office, where the baby was safely delivered. That office was what Harvey had been pointing at.

Anyhow. Harvey's Club Deluxe, or Catal Huyuk, was only about as big as the Beat Kitchen—a Neurosis concert in a space that size was like Mount Tambora erupting in a broom closet. If I hadn't already been a fan, that show would've made a convert of me for life.

I'll admit it took me a while to adjust when Neurosis started stretching out—I remember picking up The Eye of Every Storm in 2004 and deciding they'd "matured" and gotten "sensitive." Long quiet stretches, patches of acoustic guitar, actual singing—where was the shamanistic fury and suffocating density that had won me over? A lot of the change in sound had to do with Albini, whose approach is relatively transparent and naturalistic—Billy Anderson, who produced Enemy of the Sun and 1996's Through Silver in Blood, often goes for a kind of gonzo maximalism. Neurosis had undeniably opened up their dynamic range, though: previously they'd started at "loud" and ramped up to "the end of the world," but they'd started to bring it all the way down to quiet, even delicate. The loud bits are still there; you just have to let them arrive at their own pace. It's like watching an oncoming storm on the horizon at dusk—at first you can only see the flickering of lightning in its depths, but by the time the thunderhead has filled half the sky the sound starts to reach you. I don't have to tell you what comes after that. Now that I'm more of a grown-up about it, I can better appreciate the delay of gratification.

Honor Found in Decay is seven songs that total about an hour, which is short for a Neurosis album, so there's not as much delay as there might be. At the risk of sounding like I'm trying to troll fanboys, I'd call this the band's "folk" record. I mean, OK, it's still first and foremost dirgey, self-consciously epic post-metal of the subspecies Neurosis basically invented, but I also hear a lot of gothic country: interludes of clean fingerpicking, something that sounds like a bagpipe chanter, a pedal steel or a very persuasive imitation thereof, et cetera. The vocals are no longer scouring shrieks—they're more throaty and grizzled, more diversely expressive (and also pretty far forward in the mix and more or less unprocessed). In "My Heart for Deliverance" a quavering fiddle sings out over the grandiose quasi-orchestral crashing toward the end, and I'm convinced I hear an organ on "Casting of the Ages." The last sound on the album, as "Raise the Dawn" fades out, is a duet of violin and what I could swear is a banjo.

Throughout Honor Found in Decay there's a fair amount of steel-string acoustic guitar and what sounds like slide playing, which you could consider a sort of extension of the band's liberal use of string bends—they like to make notes twist mournfully in the wind. The old-school Neurosis sound rears its head occasionally, for instance in the ferocious overlapping vocal parts during the galloping finale of "At the Well." You also get some familiar tom-heavy drum stampedes ("Bleeding the Pigs"), though they're not so pell-mell—now they're more like ritual trance music. (Of course, Neurosis have long had a thing for trance music—the 27-minute version of "Cleanse" that ends the CD version of Enemy of the Sun being example number one.)

I'm going to have to let this one grow on me, but so far I'm willing to say that these guys are far from out of ideas, even after almost three decades. And if there's one thing I know from my own experience in bands, it's that you can't keep making interesting music without staying interested in the process of making it.

At the time of this writing (Sunday night) only two tracks from Honor Found in Decay are streaming online, but there they are:

"We All Rage in Gold"

"At the Well"

Oh wait! It's Monday morning now, and the whole thing is streaming here.

Philip Montoro writes about beer and metal, singly or in combination, every Monday.

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