A rather sprawling and ambitious effort that makes its case without overstaying its welcome.
Neurosis has become an institution. Instead of being caught in an endless cycle of album-tour-album, the group releases new discs at a rate commensurate with its inspiration and seemingly only performs live when the mood strikes. The music, while heavy, transcends genre boundaries, bringing together fans of hardcore and postpunk as often as lovers of traditional metal. There is a familiarity to each release: Sludgy, emotionally-driven music that traverses a wide range of moods and inspires all sorts of wild imaginings. The album cover art frequently foreshadows the record’s thematic threads and unrelenting search for that ultimate musical high. The drums will sound big and booming, an almighty presence that quickens the heart rate and inspires a reverence for all that is weighty.
Longtime fans will not be disappointed in the five-song, 40-minute effort of Fire Within Fires. From the opening, primal rhythms of “Bending Light” to the quiet but no less primitive passages of the closing “Reach,” this is classic Neurosis. It’s also a Neurosis that’s inspired by some classic themes.
“Bending Light” finds a man reflecting upon himself through the prism of nature. Does he enjoy what he sees or does he find something to condemn in himself and/or others? We may not be entirely sure, and the music—which shifts from a triumphant, chest-thumping opening to a glacial trickle that juxtaposes synthesized sounds with guitar lines that range from an uneasy burning to a contemplative calm—offers no easy answers. When the whole thing erupts into a raging, teeth-clenching declaration of salvation in solitude right around the 3:30 mark, it’s a moment of heart-stopping terror-cum-exhilaration that is unforgettable.
“A Shadow Memory” offers the kind of doomy power that casts one’s mind further into the depths of nature, seeking self-knowledge and resolve. There are distorted guitar lines and barbaric beats that will turn your grey matter black. There are clean six-string passages that bend and twist emotional synapses this way and that so we are forced to reckon with our darkest urges and temper them with our best—all this amid talk of lighted torches, the revelations from the sky and the burial of secrets.
As references to the wisdom offered by nature pile up alongside references to knowledge and imprisonment and fire, one begins to wonder if Steve Von Till and the gang aren’t getting up to some metallic retelling of Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave,” itself an exploration of knowledge’s shell game and how, once we believe ourselves to be gods, we soon discover that we are mortals. Whether this is intentional or not, we begin to question what we know and what we feel. There’s also some head-banging heaviness, especially during the carnage-filled “Broken Ground” with its earthy tones and drones and patented soul-slapping drums from Jason Roeder. It’s loud, dramatic and exactly the kind of thing that begs to become a staple of Neurosis live gigs in the future. The same may be said for “Reach,” the closing 10-minute culmination of everything this group does well. There’s a quiet stillness that prevails for long stretches as the fuzzy and clean guitar lines float by effortlessly. Then, somewhere around the eight-minute mark, all Helheim breaks loose and we’re left stunned.
Despite a somewhat slender running time, Fires Within Fires is actually a rather sprawling and ambitious effort that makes its case without overstaying its welcome. The album is deep, profound and addictive, and it’s increasingly easy to see why Neurosis has inspired so many similarly-minded groups—and also why few, if any, rise to their level.