Live Report: NEUROSIS

I don’t think it would spark controversy opening things off by saying Neurosis are truly one-of-a-kind. How many other bands come to mind that have managed to stay inspired and relevant across three decades-plus of activity together? The fact that a generation of sludge bands have traced their footsteps does no harm to Neurosis’ uniqueness; as evidenced by the fantastic Fires Within Fires, they have simultaneously stayed at the top of their field, all the while pushing forward in small but meaningful ways. Simply put, Neurosis are a more-than-respectable answer for anyone asked to name their favourite band. With that in mind, the almost fanatical crowd they drew in Vancouver when I saw them fell short of surprising. Where most classic bands lose their edge at some point, seeing Neurosis still feels like beholding a legend at their prime.


Seeking out Neurosis’ secret to eternal relevance should probably start with their well-storied career. From origins in hard-edged punk rock to their steady ascension as sludge auteurs, there hasn’t been an album yet from Neurosis that didn’t sound like they were making the right music for themselves at the time of recording. As with practically all great bands, Neurosis’ history has seen a lot of change. Whether they’re still making classics like Souls at Zero is largely besides the point; what matters is that Neurosis haven’t let fame and experience keep them from applying the right amount of effort and ambition. Fires Within Fires immediately feels like a true Neurosis album, and while it sticks to a familiar sound, it doesn’t exactly feel like a retread. Between the drawn-out Honor Found in Decay and the considerably tighter new album, it’s clear that they’re not afraid to take risks with the formula.

Neurosis came into Vancouver with Yob and Sumac, the latter of which being the most recent project from ex-Isis frontman Aaron Turner. Not to mention the weight of Yob’s groove-laden doom, this is probably as close to a sludge royalty tour as I’m bound to see. By the time Sumac first came on stage, the fair-sized venue was already practically packed to the rims. I’m still sad that I missed seeing Isis in 2010 before they broke up, so finally seeing Aaron play in a metal context was reason to be excited on its own. While I liked Sumac’s debut fairly well, their performance didn’t quite match the high expectations I had in my head. Despite being a supergroup of sorts and fronted by a genre pioneer, Sumac ended up sounding like a perfectly average example of the sort of bands inspired by Neurosis and Isis. While I’ve never given myself to the sort of stoner-oriented doom that Yob plays, their live performance felt considerably more individual than the one before it. Yob frontman Mike Scheidt has an incredible presence live and they really manage to bring their slowburning sound to life.


If anything could be said for Sumac and Yob alike, it’s that both were heavy as hell; at the risk of concert fatigue, the punishing loudness and thickness was almost constant. Even falling on shellshocked ears however, by the time Neurosis came onto the stage, the excitement came rushing back like they could have been the night’s first act. The audience went completely wild when they first went on stage, and seemed torn between expressing their excitement with movement, or letting themselves go totally rapt with attention on the performance. As a general rule, a band that’s willing to take a chance with new material is probably more engaging to see live. Neurosis’ live reputation has been an impressive cornerstone of their legacy as a band. I’d heard nothing but highest praise from those who had had the chance of seeing them prior, and part of that has no doubt been due to an ever-expanding catalogue of quality material. You can tell a lot about a band based on their setlist picks; Neurosis found a perfect mix of the new and old interspersed together. On the heels of an obsession with Fires Within Fires, seeing “Broken Ground” live was a sure highlight of the night. Even towards the end of an incredible show, Neurosis’ performance kept sounding fresh and invigorated.


Much like Swans (who coincidentally played the same venue some months prior) Neurosis manage to put on a show that sounds like it goes on forever and is never less interesting for it for a second. Reports of their impact live aren’t exaggerated. They bring the perfect kind of controlled urgency their material deserves. When I look at Neurosis compared to other post-metal mainstays like Cult of Luna or the Ocean, I’m surprised it took me as long as it did to really appreciate them. The combination of gruff aggression with orchestrated finesse actually left me dry when I first heard them a decade back. Not that I hadn’t been convinced long before, but I’m sure there wouldn’t have been any fence-sitting if my first experience of them had been live. When it all comes down to it, Neurosis bring out polar opposite experiences together simultaneously. Much as their charcoal attitude is contrasted and complimented by their softer touches, Neurosis live embrace the exciting potential of larger metal shows, all the while with the piercing intimacy of a house show or coffee shop. Catch them if you can.


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