With that voice sample, unsettling with its subtle insinuation, and a portentous bass riff, so begins the apocalyptic _Enemy of the Sun_ by Neurosis, the band's fourth album and greatest up to that point. Where to start? least important and quickest to mention -- the cover-art is classic! one of my favorites.
more interestingly, I think of Neurosis as more an extension of the anger of Swans than an extension of any metal band, with the sort of thematic structure that follows the form we now associate with post-rock. Songs like "Lost", "Raze the Stay", "Cold Ascending", and the title track build laboriously through movement-like sections with sparse orchestration that build to all-out orgies of distorted noise. But where Swans' rage seems to be their main fountainhead, Neurosis' supremely heavy aesthetic and rage is the means, not the end, which itself is an overarching spiritual catharsis. The 15-min percussion jam "Cleanse", which closes the album on an intense meditative note, affirms this. It is all somewhat primitive, brutal, and ritualistic. "Burning Flesh in the Year of the Pig" is not really a song, but instead a series of synth'd noises beneath a sampled description of that famous political protest where a Buddhist monk burned himself alive in the middle of the street in Saigon - this fits powerfully between the second and fourth cut and the overall feel of the album. Listening to _Enemy of the Sun_ is itself a musical self-immolation. "Enemy of the Sun" capitulates the pathos of mental and spiritual exhaustion, with lines like "The suicide of drought for a faith destroyed, we starve with pride and glass in our throats" or
The masks lay fallen, sheltered in the dust Tearing our flesh amongst wolves See how they run as we laugh In lunar horizons there is understanding
Harvest their return Carry my soul to the sun
At once the music seems to be of this world in which we live, and another world where Neurosis' ambiguous combination of violence and transcendence makes perfect sense.
The music is very heavy in a way few bands compare -- slow and inexorable and ponderous and unforgiving in its forward motion, like the weight of time wearing away an ancient monument. "Lost" starts heavy enough, with just its growling bass intro with hissing cymbals but is soon showered with jarring feedback and leveled by crunching chords. Despite quiet passages throughout "Raze the Sky" song explodes at various times into utter thrashing. The album flows from here without visible seam and is very much a discordant blur without careful attention, especially the extremely distorted and unintelligible madness of "Lexicon" and the roaring climax of "The Time of the Beasts". In addition to the lengthy resolution of "Cleanse" with its 9-man jam of percussion, didgeridoo, and vocal utterances, there are other moments of quiet mystery throughout, like the evocative, beautiful female vocals from "Raze the Sky" that sound like a stolen Hindustani prayer, or the strained weeping of violin and horn in the middle of "The Time of the Beasts", and the aforementioned samples throughout.
Neurosis was one of the first bands one might call "experimental metal" that I started listening to as I branched out from my "prog-metal fanboy" days, and I was easily seduced by their immense creativity, progressive ethos, and sheer heights of power. _Enemy of the Sun_ is their first real masterpiece after the more modest excellence of _Souls at Zero_. Many years and many albums later (Neurosis has most recently put out another masterful studio album, _Given to the Rising_), this is still one of the best albums they've done -- and that says a lot. If you are relatively new to Neurosis and have not heard this, make it the next one you try. It's a lot angrier and more consistently heavy and brutal than albums since _Through Silver in Blood_, and less immediate... but it will absorb you completely when you penetrate its opaque shell. If you have not heard Neurosis... well then. You really should. I mean, if you like Isis or anything people've labeled "post-metal", or any kind of "progressive/experimental metal" _at all_, then you must fill your library with Neurosis cds.