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Neurosis – Sovereign

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Do you know where’s an interesting place to listen to this record? A chain coffee shop, in London’s Square Mile, at 8:15 on a Wednesday morning. If anything really throws a spotlight on the primitivism of Neurosis‘s music, it’s watching a steady stream of suits walk past the window, off to do important and responsible things. I suspect none of them are listening to Neurosis as they dodge buses on their Boris Bikes – Neurosis don’t lend themselves to this sort of urban drudgery.

Not that there isn’t an abundance of drudgery on offer here but it’s a much more organic, Fair Trade, drudgery. This is the sound of the ‘renaissance caveman’; conceptually quite thoughtful, but executed with Neolithic brute force. Sovereign was an EP originally released in 2000, smack bang between their Times Of Grace and A Sun That Never Sets full lengths, and it bridges the stylistic gap between those two albums perfectly. The songs are more in keeping with the style exhibited on the latter album, but sonically, they avoid the more dry production technique it used.

This is unmistakably Neurosis; the tempos pound and grind along and the guitars alternate between gentle strums and full-force blasts. The apparent eschewing of fifths in favour of loose-stringed octaves gives the guitars a particular sound, like pre-Western scale horns made out of bits of mammoth. In fact, a decade on, it’s amazing to see how much influence Neurosis has on had modern metal. It’s not too much of a stretch to say that bands like ISIS and Pelican would have put out significantly different records had Neurosis not led the way.

There may only five tracks on offer here, but they still clock in at 40 minutes, easily enough to qualify as a full-length with the addition of slightly throwaway extra track “Misgiven” – a song that features an oscillating whistle that is more painful than enjoyable. Otherwise though, the standard is exceptionally high. “An Offering” features a riff almost as potent as that of “The Doorway’” from the aforementioned Times Of Grace album. “Flood” builds up layers of e-bowed guitar over animated drums that sound like they’re being played by a whole tribe. In fact it sums up Neurosis perfectly, no member ever overplays, but as a unit they’re so cohesive that the music becomes a huge mass of sound that takes on its own identity; unlike the mass of suits walking past my coffee shop window.

Highly recommended – and good a place to dip a toe.

-James Barry-

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