8. Neurosis & Jarboe (2003)
The Neurosis/Swans connection is a strong one. Swans main man Michael Gira supposedly considered recruiting Neurosis as his new backing band when Swans broke up in the '90s. This collaboration is the next best thing: Gira's Swans co-vocalist Jarboe takes over mic duties in Neurosis for an entire album.
In Swans, Jarboe mostly provides pensive contrast to Gira's domineering howl. She uses her entire range here, and what a range it is: layered harmonies, resonant crooning, childlike whispers, and grisly screams. It's a virtuoso performance that ranks among her best, thanks in part to the hair-raising instrumental atmosphere in which it appears.
Neurosis settles into a backing-band role with surprising ease on Neurosis & Jarboe. They hold their signature sonic tonnage in reserve for virtually the entire album, instead using their arsenal of drones and Jason Roeder's signature tribal tom work to endlessly build anxiety. There's not enough release for that tension; only "Erase" delivers on the album's whispered threats. For the most part, Neurosis stays out of Jarboe's way, glowering from the wings instead of lumbering into the fray. Still, Neurosis & Jarboe constitutes a fascinating aside. I hope a follow-up is in the works.
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