ALBUM OF THE DAY: NEUROSIS’ TIMES OF GRACE
When I heard that our fearless leader Axl Q. Rosenberg had seen Neurosis live twice and still hadn’t warmed up to them (while I have YET TO FUCKING SEE THEM), I was filled with the sort of confusion and rage that makes a man want to beat the offending individual to death, take him back to his apartment, and make a suit out of said individual’s flesh to wear with a nice pair of gators. Of course, then I realized that Axl is one of the two men who’ve been kind enough to let me write about metal I like for 4+ years for a blog I love and respect, in addition to that whole “You shouldn’t kill people and wear their skin” business and blah blah blah thanks Obama. But I also felt empathy for his situation: both times, he was being thrown into the deep end of an obsession many people have had for literal decades and was expected to be as moved by what he was seeing as the other people who have worn-out tapes of Souls at Zero in a box in their mom’s basement. Part of the reason Neurosis are so adored is because they’re so rich and complex, which makes them one of the worst bands in metal to just hear and be expected to pick up. They’re a band to absorb, not be spritzed with. Which, in congruence with the band’s upcoming album Honor Found in Decay, lead me to wonder if there’s an entryway to the band for newbies wondering what in the hell these beardos and aged metalheads hold so dear.
And for me, the answer is easy: 1999’s Times of Grace. Yes, the album that inspired a fucking boring Killswitch Engage side project. But it encapsulates what’s great and what had been great about Neurosis up to that point. It’s the sound of some haggard men who had been through some shit, even if they were just in their thirties. It’s deep, soulful, and powerful on its own terms. It’s incredibly heavy, but not in an obvious way. And while this wasn’t new for Neurosis at the time of its release, it marked a pivot point for the band. The earthy, organic beauty in which it wrapped its doom metal (ahem) grace opened up a whole world in which the band would (and will) firmly inhabit until they decide to hang it up for good.
For starters, it’s the first album where Neurosis started to sound like Neurosis, thanks in no fucking small part to producer/”engineer” Steve Albini. The man’s trademark sound perfectly suited the band, with huge drums (a long-time staple of Neurosis), natural-sounding instruments and first-take vocals giving the band a tactile feel. They’re best experienced as a present, organic unit; when filtered through significant production, their charm gets lost. (Through Silver and Blood, the album previous, is a classic as well, though marred by slick, mid-‘90s hardcore production.) This discovery gives Times of Grace a revelatory quality, like an already-great band realizing how they could reach transcendence. And that’s because that’s exactly what happened.
Everything Neurosis have done since has been on the same plane as Times of Grace (with the exception of their collaboration with Jarboe, which both parties had the forethought to call Neurosis & Jarboe instead of having it listed under either moniker solely). A Sun That Never Sets swims in their folkiest inclinations; The Eye of Every Storm is an album bleak enough to make Joy Divison’s Closer sound like Katrina and the fucking Waves; Given to the Rising is some of their darkest material thus far; and Honor Found in Decay… well, more on that later. But Times of Grace is that moment where the band realized what they were and who they needed to be, and everything they’ve done and presumably will do will be an extension of that. You can’t get a much better starting point than there.
Granted, Neurosis might just not be your thing. Much like the Coen Brothers, it’s easy to lose sight in their widespread critical adoration that most people might just not connect with it. But it’s safe to say that if you like what you hear on Times of Grace, you’re more than likely going to fall deeply in love with Neurosis. And the inverse is true as well: if you can’t find anything that speaks to you in it, nothing else will really turn you on in the same way. And that’s alright: Neurosis aren’t for everyone; they wouldn’t be anything resembling the band they are if they were. But the people the band do speak to will most likely feel as if a part of them previously unknown has been woken up. It’s a shadowy, desolate place to discover, but you’ll be better off knowing that it’s there.
You can purchase Neurosis’ Times of Grace here.