When you get right down to it, Neurosis are truly one of the most important bands in heavy music of the last twenty years. Not only have they been responsible for the creation of a new subgenre (the ever-confusing post-metal tag), they’ve dropped numerous classic records, helped usher in an entire generation of DIY bands and never once compromised their vision as artists. The band has always done what they do best on their own terms and only seem to create when it feels like it’s the right time to do so. It’s been four years since Neurosis’ previous record, the stark and dismal Honor Found in Decay, and now the band is back with one of their most streamlined recordings in ages. Fires Within Fires may not be the most expansive and epic album that the band has put out there, but its brevity and focused nature more than make up for it.
At just five songs and 40 minutes in length, Fires Within Fires is almost twenty minutes under your average Neurosis LP. This is in no way an indicator that the band haven’t been able to come up with a complete batch of fresh ideas, but rather a way of showing that this album doesn’t spend nearly as much time meandering through the swampy, post-apocalyptic atmospheres of the past. Make no mistake, this album is about as Neurosis as Neurosis gets, it’s just a much more refined strike upon the listener than something like 2007’s Given to the Rising. This is also one of the most “Albini-esque” recordings that the band has dropped since they began working together in 1999, meaning it feels more live and minimal than ever before. While the band are still capable of sounding completely massive and at times overwhelming, all five tracks feel like every single nuance could be replicated on stage. Long gone are the horns and bagpipes of yore, but the interplay between the band feels as natural and realistic as ever.
One of the most important and captivating moments of this entire record can be found in the opening track “Bending Light,” in which Scott Kelly continuously belts out the refrain “peeling the skin away reveals the heart.” This is essentially the mission objective of this entire record, showing that Neurosis are trying to reveal their most gut-level, immediate and honest material that they possibly can in 2016. There aren’t loads of effects and haunting samples for the band to hide behind, and instead we’re left with what can only be described as post-metal’s closest brother to folk music. “Reach” is another terrific example of this, a slow-burning closer that relies heavily on simplistic themes and the vocal harmonization of Kelly and Steve Von Till. It’s a terrific exercise in tension and release, keeping the listener on edge for a solid eight minutes until the record eventually melts and collapses in on itself. For fans of the band’s older, bulldozer approach to metal, “Fire Is The End Lesson” will do more than satiate. Just when you think that the band’s consistent dissonance and terrifying vocal trade-offs couldn’t be more horrific, keyboardist Noah Landis comes roaring in with some of the most punishing electronic wails you’ll hear this year. It’s perfectly placed in the middle of the record and would undoubtedly be an incredible song to see performed live, or send your psychedelic experience into extremely unsettling territory.
So, is this record another scene-altering classic like Through Silver in Blood or The Eye of Every Storm? Not exactly. Is it still miles beyond most of the other bands that Neurosis helped inspire? You bet your sweet ass it is. Fires Within Fires is an album that appears more simplistic on a surface level, but multiple listens will bring about a lot of hidden gems and unspeakably emotional responses from a dedicated listener. In a world that feels increasingly dark and helpless, it’s comforting to know that Neurosis will always be there to help us wallow through the filth.
Fires Within Fires is out September 23, 2016 through Neurot Recordings. You can purchase it here.