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Neurosis - Given to the Rising

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Artist: Neurosis

Album: Given to the Rising

Label: Neurot

Review date: Jun. 12, 2007

At least once a year I listen to every Neurosis album (from Enemy of the Sun on up) sequentially. For a band this given to ritualism, this seems appropriate, particularly in advance of a new release. In doing before hearing this new record (their first since 2004’s The Eye of Every Storm), I was struck not only by how commonplace it is for bands to pillage Neurosis’ sound these days, but also by how very much they’ve changed since the turn of the millennium.

As many listeners and readers know, since the Sovereign EP the band has been slowly rendering explicit some of the elements of acoustic, lyrical, and textural music that had been implicit (and frequently buried within a wall of noise) for many years. One grew accustomed to hearing some viola, bagpipes or acoustic guitars here and there, just as one also knew to expect huge dynamic shifts. In between the vast tectonic slabs of pure riffery, there was always some textural detail to be gleaned (and Noah Landis’ keyboards remain absolutely crucial in this regard). But while the Bay Area sextet never lost the heaviness and the unremitting bleakness of their sound, they scaled things back frequently on their last two full-lengths (and, in the case of the 2004 disc, things sometimes got so sparse that the music was harrowing – just the croak of Scott Kelly’s voice suspended amidst the starkest of backgrounds).

So a lot of folks have been talking about the return to power and anger on Given to the Rising. As just noted, I’m not sure that stuff ever left: it just got articulated differently, with different tones and inflections. But I’d be lying if I said this release didn’t pack more of a punch – indeed, it coldcocks you straight from the gate. The opening title track is practically primal, sounding like some firmament opening up and yawing forth strange swirling sounds until it rides out like a gorgeous flaming ship drifting to a watery doom. It sets the tone for a fairly relentlessly paced album. “Fear and Sickness” sounds like a psychedelic war march that wouldn’t be out of place on the group’s claustrophobic mid-1990s discs. “To the Wind” starts like one of those chiming new Earth pieces, with slowly resounding tones that eventually open up for another drivingly intense section – but there are so many layers this time around: faint arpeggios, a harmonic sheen, and some howling detuned feedbacking, too. “At the End of the Road” sounds wet and gloomy, with coiling guitar over a menacing drum tattoo.

It’s funny but, listening to this album, I keep getting these subterranean images of almost mythological beasts both furtive and aggressive, things waking from long slumbers. It’s not just the heaviness (though the relentless churn of “Water is Not Enough” is hard to deny), but the very finely wrought texture that seems suggestive in this way. In fact, the spectral electronic atmospheres and recitation (“the sword of judgment” indeed) on “Shadow” and “Nine” might be the most intense things on the whole record. Throughout, the band shows how much they’ve mastered contrast and nuance. Amidst the deepest groove and nastiest drop-tuned riffs, you hear the keening of metallic gulls or some hurdy-gurdy from the pit groaning to life beneath an oppressive weight. And Kelly and Steve Von Till have been pushing their guitar work as well, to chiming minimalism here and unexpected slide melancholy there.

It all comes together most effectively on the closing “Origin.” It tolls ominously for most of its length, with interwoven strings against a droning background that creates serious tension. I almost wish it didn’t explode towards the end, because the soft stuff is so entrancing – but the croaked howl sounds so much like mountain wind and the music so much like steady climbing steps that it fits wonderfully. Isn’t that just like a Neurosis album, to bring you into some psychic journey where physical toil meets abjection on the grandest scale? Man, nobody does it like them. After a period of rewarding transitions, this album may be the purest integration yet of the different sides of this great, great band.

By Jason Bivins

Other Reviews of Neurosis

Enemy of the Sun

Honor Found in Decay

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