“Sometimes it feels like a war for your soul. That you have to do these things for your soul and if you didn’t? Your soul is what would pay.” – Steve Von Till, vocalist & guitarist for Neurosis, as seen in the documentary, Blood, Sweat, and Vinyl.
To be brutally honest, I’m mostly at a loss for words. I’m sure that’s just the thing you want to read as you’re diving into a review of a highly-anticipated album like Fires Within Fires, but there you go. And let’s be real: if you know/love Neurosis, there won’t be a damn thing my review will do to sway your opinion. You’re on-board their train and it’s already leaving the station. Nothing I can do to change that. Which basically means I can set any pretense of objectivity aside and tell you this…
This record is absolutely phenomenal.
There it is. I’ve probably never written a more obvious sentence in all my years of covering music and culture. But honestly, what could I possibly say to add to the weight and magnitude of a group that’s been around for 31 years and is as influential as they are? That’s not false humility as a writer, that’s just fact. Listening to them is an experience, as palpable as any spiritual revelation I’ve ever had. The five songs of Fires Within Fires aren’t just a soundtrack, but a journey unto themselves. And calling them songs? That’s putting it mildly. These are compositions, musical pieces that are beholden to none, other than the muse that these five individuals conjure up and then exorcise through the process of creation.
The standout track is “Broken Ground.” Beginning with a gentle slide guitar riff, it calls to mind life out on an ocean-facing mountain ridge, amongst the expanse of nature, stars above, valleys below, and the sea beyond. Before too long however, a galloping pace kicks in and we’re swept along in a voyage down into the depths. Lest we drown, the slide guitar motif returns and we surface to catch our collective breath… only to get tossed under once again. And this second time, we’re not so lucky. The vocals take on a watery quality and the ocean wins.
The other four pieces are equally moving and equally breathtaking. “Epic” is an adjective that gets tossed around a lot within the metal genre, to the point that we risk losing the meaning the word is meant to convey: scale, grandeur, an overwhelming sense of awe. That said, there’s really no other way to talk about Fires Within Fires. From here on out, this should be one of key milestones of how one gauges a record’s “epicness.” There are only five songs, yet the shortest is 6:50. Each track is a journey within itself, shifting from passage to passage. This sort of songwriting only comes from years of honing one’s craft. The transitions are seamless, carrying the listen along on a wave of power and intensity.
In truth, the songs lengths aren’t that surprising, given the sort of music that Neurosis writes. But if anything, this album comes across as slightly more concise than its predecessor, Honor Found In Decay (shorter by about 20 minutes). Perhaps this is the best compliment I can pay this record: its focus is matched by its potency. As they continue to mature, these five guys are sharpening their skills, making each note, each moment count. It is a testament to the staying power of Neurosis that they can continue to create and innovate far longer than most bands manage to form, quit, and reform to cash in on that sweet, sweet reunion money.
If Steve Von Till’s quote above is to be taken at face value, hopefully their souls are well acquitted by now. Hell knows they deserve it.
– Jeremy Hunt