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Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Album Review: Neurosis - Sovereign EP Reissue

Neurosis - Sovereign EP Reissue
2011 Neurot Recordings
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

The thing with Neurosis is they can be exquisite in their brutal soundscapes or downright ravenous. Never has it been said that Neurosis is for everybody, but they are artists, whether or not you have the stomach for what they put on display from both a visual and audile standpoint.

If you've seen Neurosis perform live (much less A Storm of Light, which features their pictorial collaborator Josh Graham), you know the entire experience is to submit your senses to frequently horrific images and sculptures of tone-crushed banality. The multimedia presentation can be shattering in one aspect, frightfully cleansing in another. After all, Neurosis' expressionistic noise art is not so much about evil and darkness, but an outpouring of the human condition. Ironically, Neurosis has been chasing after spirituality, not sadism, through their angry canvasses.

Often that essence is a terrifying reflection captured in lapsed bars of distorted throbbing, tortured wailing and colder than cold coldwave. While Neurosis has often been devastating in a brilliant sense (i.e. Souls at Zero, Enemy of the Sun, The Eye of Every Storm and Through Silver in Blood), there's frequently been points in their career where a little extra work is required by the listener.

2000's Sovereign EP is a case of the latter. Chopped down, at times patient to the point of madness and unnerving from a vocal standpoint, Sovereign isn't so much a crossroads release as it is a bitter pill with moments of sonic extravagance. Given the Sovereign EP appeared in between Neurosis' breakout album Times of Grace from 1999 and 2001's A Sun That Never Sets, it might be argued Neurosis was attempting to sort out the lifer fans from the posers. Suffice it to say, Sovereign is both tough to digest and ultimately satisfying if you appreciate what this band is about.

Originally released as four song EP, this reissue of Sovereign comes with a bonus track, "Misgiven." Before you even reach that point, however, you must stand prepared to sift and disseminate acres of bass heavy vibratum, echoing tribal beats, electro hell and writhing yowls which can grate on the nerves. Still, for all of the numbed-out build-ups on Sovereign, Neurosis can be goddamned concussive in glorious fashion when they reach those booming climaxes.

Even though the title track winds on and on for 15 minutes, once you've crossed the threshold of "Sovereign's" bludgeoning crunch chords, Neurosis leaps past those cascades of depressing distortion and opens up their creative space with titanic thunder. You're occasionally zapped by laser-like electronics which make you feel like you've drifted into Space Ghost before Neurosis stamps back down on their pedals and blows your cranium apart. If you feel you've had enough, don't let your guard down once Neurosis settles "Sovereign" into a creepy sequence of piano-led death alms and hypnotic guitar tendrils before dragging your worn-out carcass to a thankful respite.

Ditto for the deliberately methodic pacing of "An Offering," which rewards greatly with a heaving finale that stands as one of Neurosis' most emotional explosions. Never forget when listening to Neurosis emotion is what guides their every stroke. Their palette is almost never conventional, but when threading the nerve-raking catatonia of "An Offering" and "Sovereign" with the snare and tom-driven instrumental "Flood," which worms in snaky guitar tugs, you begin to fathom the beginning-to-end process of a Neurosis release.

All that being said, if you thought dogs want to yelp bloody murder at high pitches, don't forsake this bit of advice: Take aspirin (and perhaps a pair of earplugs) in advance when sinking into "Misgiven," a lumbering and largely cruel exercise in sequencer shrieking that will put you on the floor in agony. Even John Carpenter and Alan Howarth knew when to turn the knobs back before killing their listeners along with their Halloween victims. While it was stated earlier in this review that Neurosis is more in search of spirituality not sadism in their craft, "Misgiven" is strictly for the art noise geeks. You know, the hipper-than-you scalawags who brag they have the balls to take this at jacked, ear-gouging decibels, much less kicking back to a full hour's track of whipping and female sobbing set to coldwave courtesy of Stallagh. While munching on Doritos for added crunk, of course.

Enter at your own risk.

Rating: ***1/2

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