In 2003, Neurosis (pictured above) performed in Philadelphia, headlining Relapse Records’ Contamination Festival. It was noted even way back then that the band had not really toured for several years, and it was a trend that for the most part continued afterwards. Taking a cue from the band’s longtime producer Steve Albini and how he handles Shellac, Neurosis seems content to limit touring to special events, curated festivals, and one-off shows in bigger metropolitan areas. It’s a luxury afforded few underground extreme bands, but one that Neurosis deserves thanks to self-sufficiency brought about by running its own Neurot Recordings and being elder statesmen of a subgenre the band helped create.
Even when doing a more traditional tour with a bus and routing, which means a few weeks of East Coast dates that conclude on a Monday night in Philadelphia, Neurosis still wants to make it special, which is likely why Converge (pictured below) was on the bill. Aside from the band being legendary in its own right, the speedy metalcore was a satisfying contrast to the morose tempos employed by the headliners. You could call them co-headliners since Converge got an extended set that was certainly long enough to close most shows.
The whole band made good use of the large stage, but none more so than vocalist Jacob Bannon, who, swinging his microphone around like a disoriented shot-putter, made it his mission to ensure that every square inch of plywood had at least three of his footsteps. Despite the difference in moods from the actual headliners, songs such as “All We Love We Leave Behind,” with tribal drumming and guitars that seem to riff on the offbeat, the doomy “Worms Will Feed/Rats Will Feast,” and the ferocious math metal of “Concubine” showed that there’s not much of a difference in the approaches of the two bands when push comes to shove.
Shoving and pushing came to nearly a complete and literal standstill once Neurosis took the stage. This is music to absorb, music that pushes against you with enough force that pushing back is futile.
The band is not known for nostalgia yet opened the show with a duo of older tracks: the crawling, mechanical “Lost” from Enemy of the Sun and a furiously fast “The Web” from the 1991 transitional album Souls at Zero. They got back to the present by performing nearly all of last year’s Fires Within Fires, the first four of the album’s five tracks interspersed with one song off each of several catalog albums.
For most of its existence, Neurosis credited those handling their visuals (most famously, Pete Inc.; most recently, Josh Graham) as full-fledged band members. However, in 2012, the band made a decision to reinvent its live show and now performs without the superimposed, imposing psychedelic imagery. Having seen the band both before and after, this element is definitely missed, although it may also mean that subtleties hidden within the material are more readily apparent without the distractions. Who knows?
The show was cathartic and chaotic, befitting such a musical trendsetter. White-hot riffs mingled with doom-laden folk; soft passages were punctuated by blistering screams; it was both cerebral and primal. Dirges such as set-closer “Stones from the Sky” are not supposed to be this uplifting, and yet, they soared with a spirituality you can’t find in church.
Neurosis gets a lot of respect as post-metal innovators, but if anything, the band is actually under-appreciated. Its hardcore roots and continued aggression somewhat relegates the band to a metal ghetto, one which the band rules over, but doesn’t escape as much as it should. There’s a direct line between Joy Division’s depressive artscapes and what Neurosis does. Trent Reznor and Maynard Keenan should be showcasing the band above ground, as Neurosis is not just a great metal band, they’re a great band for any fans of dark, brooding music. It would be nice if more people finally figured that out.