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  • Neurosis Albums From Worst To Best
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11. Pain Of Mind (1987)

Some bands spring fully formed into the world. Neurosis did not. Their lengthy, occasionally tortured evolution began here — far away from its destination a quarter century later.

The Neurosis lineup that released Pain Of Mind will look unfamiliar to those acquainted only with the band's '90s and '00s material. Steve Von Till and Noah Landis hadn't joined the band yet; in their place is vocalist/guitarist Chad "Gator Tofu" Salter. (Other band members have silly nicknames in the liner notes too: Scott "Sleepy Chico Bournemouth" Kelly, Jason "The Lerching Humungous" Roeder. It's hard to imagine "Sleepy Chico Bournemouth" writing the riff to "Locust Star.") The album itself looks strange too. It screams "'80s hardcore": Comic-book mushroom clouds and masked soldiers menace a scrawny punk's imagination.

Musically, Pain Of Mindis even more dissimilar to Neurosis's better-known efforts. The band retained a hardcore influence into the '90s, but they actively traffic in the sound here, cribbing from Die Kreuzen, Amebix and Black Flag. Pain of Mind is scathing, and it's cool to hear Dave Edwardson's frantic bass lines and lead vocals. (Neurosis would later relegate his vocals to a supporting role.) Glimmers of Neurosis' budding experimentalism show through, especially in the chiming intro to "Black." So does their inexperience, though, via sloppy performances and awkward lyrics.

My favorite photograph of Neurosis is the one posted on their Wikipedia entry. It’s a grainy shot of the band performing in Seattle in 2008. You can make out the band members, but only just. The blue-white eclipse projected on the wall behind them washes out their features.

It’s a great picture, despite the graininess, because it captures the way Neurosis the band subsumes its component individuals. Few bands — and especially few metal bands — have achieved their degree of ego-free cohesion. Neurosis is a singular entity; their music is an austere ritual. Lots of songwriters say that they ‘channel’ their music rather than compose it. Coming from Neurosis, it’s a believable claim.

Neurosis formed in Oakland in 1985, rising from the ashes of a previous band called Violent Coercion. Initially, they were a relatively run-of-the-mill member of the burgeoning Bay Area hardcore punk scene. (Neurosis headlined the second-ever show at the legendary DIY venue 924 Gilman Street; Operation Ivy, No Use For a Name, and pre-Green Day punkers Isocracy played the third.)

Neurosis had become something utterly different by their third studio album, 1992′s Souls At Zero. This second-tier hardcore band was suddenly hard to describe. A touch of punk remained, but Neurosis also crammed sludgy riffage, gradual dynamic shifts, electronic textures, and a whole clutch of non-rock instruments into their lengthy songs. It was artsy music, by contemporary standards; unlike their didactic and/or goofy peers, Neurosis wrote imposing songs and elliptical lyrics that defied easy interpretation. Drawing on Jungian psychology for inspiration, they started festooning their live performances with disturbing visual projections. (Neurosis finally discontinued the practice a few weeks ago.) Souls At Zero was a rarity — a truly original, unprecedented metal album.

Over the ensuing decade, Neurosis would synthesize a laundry list of influences — Black Sabbath, Swans, Amebix, Townes Van Zandt, Black Flag, Loop, Joy Division, Melvins — into a unique approach. (Unique approaches are rarities to be cherished in the metal world.) By the turn of the millennium, Neurosis’s slow-burning shamanism had become its own subgenre: post-metal. Some bands, like ISIS and Mastodon, openly aped Neurosis before pursuing other sounds. Many, many others have tried unsuccessfully to simply imitate them. Post-metal has mostly faded, but Neurosis lives on.

Neurosis toured relentlessly for the rest of the ’90s. Upon finding themselves pressured into tours that conflicted with their deep-seated DIY ethics, the band retired both their van and their record label affiliation. Their own Neurot Recordings, which was founded to release music by their ambient side project Tribes of Neurot, became their permanent home. In the decade since, Neurosis has effectively become a self-contained studio act, playing rare live dates while its members lead more balanced lives. (One member, Steve Von Till, is a schoolteacher; it is amusing to imagine him leading a classroom full of unsuspecting children.) At present, they’ve got five US dates scheduled to support their new release, Honor Found In Decay. Coincidentally, just this morning they announced a rare NYC date, on 1/19/2013, five years to the day since their last NYC show.

Neurosis began as a pact among friends who wanted to do something meaningful with their lives. For Neurosis’s most enduring lineup — Von Till and Scott Kelly on guitar and vocals, Dave Edwardson on bass and vocals, Jason Roeder on drums, and Noah Landis on electronics — that pact has been fulfilled. Neurosis is one of the most influential and beloved metal bands in the genre, and for good reason. This is the kind of band that inspires devotion, even obsession.

Here are their full-length albums, from worst to best. You can get lost in here. If you’re lucky, you will.


All upcoming Neurosis US tour dates:

12/29 – Atlanta @ The Masquerade (w/Rwake, Primate, U.S. Christmas)
12/30 – Chicago & The Metro, w/ Bloodiest, The Atlas Moth
01/04 – Los Angeles @ The Fonda Theatre (w/ Savage Republic, Ides of Gemini)
01/05 – Seattle @ The Showbox At The Market
01/19 – New York @ Brooklyn Masonic Temple

Comments (9)
  1. Glad to see Neurosis getting some well deserved attention. I would have put Given To The Rising higher and the trend of Stereogum picking questionable #1s continues by not putting Enemy or Through Silver at the top. But you know what they say about opinions. A nice overview of one of heavy musics greatest bands.

  2. Through Silver In Blood is a good as it gets for me but really happy that this list exists. They need to bring visuals back in to their live show, saw them a few months with Godflesh and Godflesh stole the show.

  3. Times is the best by a mile to my mind, though Silver and Enemy absolutely fucking rule on their own terms as well.

    But Pain of Mind in last… I know it’s barely Neurosis, and nothing like we’d get from them later, but I much prefer them as raw punks to the bulk of the boring post-2000 material that came before. But that’s just me :-)

  4. I’m really hoping they have a show in Portland, but otherwise I think I’m going to go to that Seattle show. Tragedy and Black Breath are both great bands too.

  5. For years I have thought I was the only one who felt Times of Grace was their absolute best.
    I would’ve put Eye of Every Storm lower on the list, but otherwise this is fine.

  6. Never heard of ‘em. Will be a fun band to explore someday. Thanks stereogum.

  7. Love seeing Neurosis getting some respect here, but the order you’ve put these in is totally wrong. A Sun That Never Sets and Eye of Every Storm are the albums where they went from being a great metal band to being one of the most legendary bands of any genre, and Times of Grace is one of their weakest moments. #perplexed

  8. Neurosis is the greatest band in the history of bands. That is all.

  9. This article is dumb. There are no bad Neurosis albums. ALL of the them are great in their own ways.

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