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Neurosis, ‘Honor Found in Decay’ (Neurot)

SPIN Rating: 8 of 10
Release Date: November 06, 2012
Label: Neurot

Nearly three eardrum-decimating decades into their career — and a little more than 15 years since they perfected feedback-drenched catharsis metal on 1996 watershed Through Silver in Blood — the expressionists in Neurosis still sound as though, to them, happiness is a foreign language. For every mercilessly murky minor chord on their latest, Honor Found in Decay, there’s a Prozac Nation’s worth of downtrodden declarations. “Death was my first companion,” the leadoff track boasts, while a later number proudly proclaims, “We’ll sleep with no dreams tonight.”

Then there’s “At the Well” and its relentlessly repeated invocation, “In a shadow world,” which could very well be “In a shattered world,” and it wouldn’t make a forked-tongue lick of difference, because it’s ridiculously heavy regardless. It’s the kind of heavy you can’t approximate by merely ripping off Tony Iommi; as far as atmospheric bleakness goes, it’s more Freud than Floyd. This is heavy in decibels and depth. But for Neurosis, that intensity is nothing new.

The group’s latest evolutionary step in a progression that would impress even Darwin (they now describe their own punkish early albums, like 1987’s Pain of Mind, as “primitive”) comes courtesy of keyboardist and sampler Noah Landis. Here more than on any previous Neurosis LP, he commandeers his bandmates’ sustained chords and snail-paced tempos and fills the space with smartly tinted textures. On the 12-minute “My Heart for Deliverance,” he transforms a Joy Division-y section around the three-minute mark and imbues it with sampled Dirty Three–style violin trills. His Morricone-ish predilection surfaces on “We All Rage in Gold,” when an instrument that could be a violin whines morosely, and surreally, over lumbering sludge.

Elsewhere, he promulgates the sort of organ overtones pioneered by onetime Swans keyboardist and Neurosis friend Jarboe on “Casting of the Ages” — a crushing song that vocalist-guitarist Scott Kelly wrote in tribute to his father, who passed away last year. And then there’s the sample that sounds a bit like bagpipes on bennies, mournfully honking on “At the Well”; Landis used a bagpipe sample on Through Silver‘s industrialized “Purify,” but it never sounded as disheartened, or as human, as it does here.

Landis’ contributions, along with a classy mix by the group’s longtime engineer of choice, Steve Albini, have officially upped the ante for all the post-metal bands who ought to be paying these guys royalties for their patent on psychedelic purgation (including Mogwai, Tool, and even Earth in their current incarnation). For Neurosis, it’s just another slightly tweaked slice of death-obsessed life for a band that evolves at its own slow, steady, confident pace. Decay is a revealing snapshot, a putrescent presentation of Neurosis shedding whatever monkeys have clawed their way onto their backs since the release of 2007’s Given to the Rising. The details change, but the heaviness remains.