Pitchfork (Website) - "[T]he group had morphed into an entity of ritualism, dark spectacle, and metaphysical sprawl."
Personnel: Scott Kelly, Steve Von Till (vocals, guitar); Noah Landis (synthesizer, sampler); Jason Roeder (drums).
Recording information: Electrical Audio, Chicago, IL.
Neurosis marks 30 years with Fires Within Fires, their 11th album. It's uncharacteristically economical, clocking in at a mere 40 minutes, their shortest since 1992's Souls at Zero. Engineered by Steve Albini (their sixth collaboration in a row), it takes stock of the places Neurosis has been since leaving behind their post-hardcore roots to pioneer the strange world of "post-metal." Opener "Bending Light" commences with a slow, doomy bassline and a guitar vamp that directly references Pink Floyd's "Nile Song" -- specifically the Necros' mid-'80s cover -- but uncouples itself to wander more jagged atmospheric terrain with sparse, bluesy guitar lines and darkly hued sonic effects from keyboardist Noah Landis. Each layer erases a previous one until the 3:45 mark, when all hell breaks loose with Jason Roeder's thudding pummel as Steve Von Till's anguished rasp offers a mantra as a refrain: "Peel the skin away/reveal the heart." Dave Edwardson's dirty bass throb is the track's unshakeable anchor, guiding it from phase to phase. "A Shadow Memory" is introduced via ambience with a nearly Gothic sense of foreboding, but an exploded trance blues groove -- that reverberates with the late Delta bluesman Junior Kimbrough's influence -- transforms itself into a doomy, sludgy riff illustrating guitarist/vocalist Scott Kelly's anguished wail of malevolent alienation. He and Von Till dovetail their vocal approaches on "Fire Is the End Lesson," whose guitars deliver microtonal tunings pioneered by Glenn Branca, Michael Gira, and Lee Ranaldo. That said, the dynamic is Neurosis' harmonically dissonant brand of extreme metal. "Broken Ground" is inspired by the brooding folk and Americana Von Till has employed on solo records. Its two-chord riff played in staggered cadence by Von Till and Kelly gradually increases in tempo. Edwardson's monolithic basslines and Roeder's grinding slam punctuate each turn of phrase with punishing force. Landis paints the margins cinematically as the track moves back and forth between desert drone and modal metallic churn. "Reach" is the set's epic closer. Driven by Edwardson and Roeder, its circular rhythmic architecture is restrained and incantatory, offering a plank for a 21st century Gothic Americana melodic frame to appear. Kelly's vocals, nearly whispered in some places, almost moaned in others, is supported by back-masked guitar lines that engage with forward ones colored by reverb and delay; they share space with Landis' Lustmord-esque ambient textures. The cut moves at a glacier pace across a nearly empty expanse of drama and loss, gathering tension for eight of its ten minutes. When it becomes unbearable, guitars and bassline erupt in a monotone doom riff as Von Till enters, wailing like an unhinged prophet in the wilderness as the rhythm section brings him face to face with the apocalypse. Almost everything on Fires Within Fires has roots in an arena Neurosis has previously explored -- it's the assemblage that delivers the difference, and that's enough. Given its relative brevity, it's among the few albums in their catalog that doesn't leave the listener exhausted (not a bad thing by any means), but wanting more. ~ Thom Jurek