without Internet Explorer,
in 1280 x 960 resolution
While Neurosis’s previous album, Souls At Zero, will always remain their magnum opus in my eyes, it is somewhat of an orphan in their discography. With the band’s general view as it still being a stepping-stone to finding their sound, nothing in their discography sounds remotely similar. It is with Enemy of the Sun where they really started falling into their signature sound. Feeling they were getting too caught up in a cerebral process with Souls, for Enemy they decided to slow things down and play from the gut. The result is a visceral ooze of nightmarish sludge and demented crust.
While Souls were filled with sharp metallic crust riffs, Enemy sees those slow down into a cesspool of glacial riffs that slowly churn with the heft of shifting continental plates. The fact that this type of album came out in 1993 is nothing short of astounding. While the Melvins arguably released the first sludge album in 1986, the style didn’t really find its footing until the dawn of the ‘90s with bands such as Crowbar and Eyehategod. While it’s hard to know if Neurois were aware of these two Nola innovators, they were certainly aware of what the Melvins were doing, and moreover the B side of Black Flag’s My War (largely regarded as the spark that set off sludge) had a big influence on the band (Scott even has a tattoo of the release on the back of his neck). However, this isn’t just run of the mill sludge. This is inarguably the first sludge album to bring in atmospheric tendencies as a large part of the sound. Countless bands have this album to thank for their existence.
These atmospheric tendencies are a far cry from the serene, picturesque soundscapes that many atmospheric sludge bands use today. Rather, Neurosis conjures up claustrophobic hellscapes. In many ways this album seems like an exploration into the darkest corners of the human mind. To achieve the more atmospheric passages, Neurosis use deep, crawling bass lines, nightmarish keyboards and additional instrumentation such as piano, violin and horns. While the additional instrumentation isn’t as prominent as in Souls at Zero and there aren’t many awesomely bizarre clean instrumental sections on this one, they still add a lot to the overall experience. Samples continue to play a prominent role, bolstering the album’s bleak aura of mental disorientation. Interestingly enough, the band was partially inspired to do this from Dr. Dre’s work as a producer.
The meat of this album is filthy, vitriolic sludge reeking of crust influences. Big riffs are plentiful and Enemy is so stuffed with ideas that the weight of everything going on makes for a pretty claustrophobic experience. Released only a year after Souls at Zero, this was originally supposed to be an EP, but the band was so brimming with creative fertility that they ended up recording a full length. This is certainly more abrasive than Souls and can be pretty opaque, dense and difficult. This is definitely not the best album for newcomers trying to get into the band. However, beyond its callous exterior lies an immensely rewarding experience.
From the crushing riffs, to the mammoth bass lines; the tribal experimentation on the drums, to the triple threat vocal assault – this is an album where nothing is an afterthought. Each instrument is used to create something interesting. For example, the album opener “Lost” would lose its charm without that massive crawling bass line (you’ll know the one). This album would be incomplete without the closing epic drum jam of “Cleanse”. One of the most ambitious things Neurosis has ever done, this shows Jason fully realizing his tom-heavy tribal style that was blooming in Souls in one of the most awe-inspiring ways possible. The impetus for this drumming style was what bands such as Crash Worship, Coil and various industrial groups at the time were doing. The vocals are uncompromisingly powerful– often with two members going at the same time, Steve, Scott and Edward provide three distinct and very powerful voices that all seem to stem to some degree out of the crust scene. The lyrics are more potent than ever, and to some degree reflect Scott’s addictions at the time – when he was younger he says he tried to tear down his mind with psychedelics to deal with the past and the loss he has lived through.
In the reissue, there were two bonus tracks added. This wasn’t a good idea on Souls at Zero, and it’s not a good idea now. Neurosis are very much an album band, and it seems almost preposterous that something would be tacked on to the end of such a carefully constructed vision. That said, the bonus tracks in themselves are not bad. The demo version of “Takeahnase” is very interesting if not quite as good as the album version. Cleanse II (live) is a Floydian experiment of psychedelic sounds with perhaps a slight industrial tinge. A moderately interesting experiment, but hardly gripping like so much of their discography. However, the one thing the reissue got very right is chopping off the second half of “Cleanse” where a sample is looped over and over again. I’m not sure what they were going for (hypnotic repetition, perhaps?), but it just sounded annoying in the original version and went on absurdly long.
Their shift in focus from a cerebral to a more visceral creative process provided some interesting evolution in the Neurosis sound. While Souls was had much sharper riffs, here the riffs are generally slower and embody the feeling of drowning in tar. A nightmarish and oppressive album from start to finish, this is a harder release to connect to initially, but well worth the trouble. Enemy of the Sun marks where Neurosis really started to find the sound that they would build upon and morph for decades to come. While the production is quite well done, this is still very dense and uncompromisingly abrasive. A harrowing descent into the bleakest corners of the psyche, this is an amazing if not entirely pleasant journey.
Enemy Of The Sun" is probably the first album that showed to the world Neurosis' undeniable genius. It's also the precursor of what they went on to summon on the infamous "Through Silver In Blood". And even though the latter usually gathers all the praises and will maybe forever be remembered as their magnum opus, I will always have a soft spot for "Enemy...".
This one is really not an easy album to sit down and write a review about. I found myself many times in the uncomfortable position of having to explain to my dumb-ass friends why Neurosis is so special and I've always failed in my task. I am starting to believe what some other reviewer said earlier: this is a band that you either love or hate. Neurosis' music requires your attention, you carefully listening to it, you NEED to read and know the amazing lyrics... it's not some stuff you put in the background while you wash the dishes and expect to remember something of what you heard when the record's over. And this album is, in the band's career, the first clear example of that.
There's not one single track on this album sporting a catchy melody, a hook, even a hint of a chorus. Each one of the eight tracks on "Enemy Of The Sun" is an agonizing howl of pain that comes straight from the hearts and souls of these guys, like the suffered lament of a dying man who's seen the world entire fall to pieces and his life destroyed before his eyes while exhaling his last breath. And that uneasy feeling prolongs itself for 72 minutes, 72 long minutes of slow, endless agony, one last desperate search for a way out of the sunburnt valley of death that's life on this earth.
The ostentatiously arrogant opening statement (sampled off the movie "The Sheltering Sky") makes all the more sense after the first, doom-slow, bass driven groove of "Lost" kicks in. Hissing guitar riffs conjure up with confusing sampled noises, while the slow march carried by the drums and the bass finally leads to a series of devastating riffs where all the scorn, all the pain and all the passion finally find the chance to vent through Scott Kelly's and Steve Von Till's agonizing screams. There's still space in this catastrophe for Neurosis' trademark excursus in quiet and hypnotizing repetition, but it's not the kind of repetition they got us used to with their latest albums. No, there's something vicious and malevolent beyond all imagination even in the relaxed bits, so that, if your ears can rest, your soul can certainly not.
The agony goes on and on through "Raze the Stray". Shivers are sent down your spine as soon as the female vocals start, in an unknown language, setting an ethereal tone for the song. A sudden explosion then breaks in, destroying all the hope for peace of mind you could have still harboured so far, and after a slightly easterly guitar/strings duet break Dave Edwardson enters the scene unleashing his infamous growls. He is soon joined by Kelly and Von Till, creating one of the most amazing and effective vocal interplays I've heard in my whole life, where one singer finishes the other's sentence and vice-versa. "I will not STRAAAAAYYY!", they stress, while a pleasantly dissonant sound (obtained by playing that short portion of strings which is not on the fret-board of the guitar but on the paddle) introduces some of their most earth-shattering riffs in their whole repertoire. And while the song ends, inevitably in definitive hopelessness, the female vocals fade back in, like Neurosis wants you to feel safe and relaxed when the end comes.
"Burning Flesh In The Year Of Pig" is an account of what happened in Vietnam in 1967 when buddhist priest Tich Quang Duc self-immolated in a busy intersection in the capital city, in front of hundreds of incredulous passers-by. More than a real track it's got the taste of a warning that something terrible is going to happen soon.
From the combination of "Cold Ascending" and "Lexicon" we get to know the most savage, furious and telluric side of Neurosis' music. There's absolutely no melody for the poor listener to grasp on. Jason Roeder's hammering drum beat opens the dance, while the bass crawls along with a sound that calls for nothing safe. This unlikely, sick march is aptly followed by highly dissonant single guitar notes that keep doubling up until the song bursts into one demonic chaos, a violent raping of the listener's ears and feelings, something that makes you forget any other way heavy music had been played before and introduces a new point of view, one that looks at you in the eyes directly from the depths of a psychological inferno. And when things seem to calm down a little and a small gleam of light seems to be shining again on you, a long, troubled, tortuous waltz accompained by the sickening sound of ghostly voices finally lets this nightmare take its toll on you.
By the time the title track kicks in your senses should be already so nullified that the eerie drum intro must feel like the distorted sound of your own heartbeat resounding in your subconscious. The guitars and bass lay down on each other creating an ever thicker fabric of inter-reacting notes until a signal is given to start the beating. "The sun bathes my wounds with a veil of rage/ its rays dyed with the blood of our disrespect": the punishment is due, and the war-drum's frantic tribal rhythm leaves no chance for a safe place to hide.
You've finally reached the point of no return; if you've been submissive enough to take all of the punishing rage so far unleashed upon you, now it's finally time for you to let it out. If you bow down, close your eyes and listen to the final requiem "Time Of The Bests", to the decaying, funereal melody carried by the horns section, you can actually experience a sort of purifying feeling, a purging force driving itself through your body, until the tribal drumming of "Cleanse" brings you back to reality. And when it does, you're a different person. Especially, if you are a musician you will never look at music the same way again.
This is an album that changed a lot of people, it changed me, and it opened many doors for us to look upon a new way of making music, where aesthetic laws and formulas, genre restrictions and mere song structures don't mean anything and all that matters is your feelings, and being able to translate them in music. After 15 years this album still has the power to shock and please, to satisfy and horrify and definitely set contrasts among people who listen to it, people who either run away from it in disgust or will grow to love it as one of the best metal albums of all time.
From the opening samples evoking fears of death and worries of the shortness of life of the opening track to the 16 minute tribal rampage of “Cleanse”, Neurosis show their burgeoning musical prowess on Enemy of the Sun. Even at this premature stage, the direction their music would take could not be anymore clear, and still this album is exceptionally unique from the rest of their discography. Indeed, Neurosis have crafted one of the greatest pieces of sludge out there, far surpassing even those contemporaries who have gone further to master the genre themselves.
The bass is a driving force on this album, being front and center for much of the album, grinding and gurgling like some sinister machine-beast hybrid, keeping the more monstrous tracks like “Lost” and “Raze the Stray” focused, setting stage for the epic build in “Cold Ascending”, and churning the stomach in “Lexicon” (which has some of the coolest goddamn bass-lines ever).
Meanwhile, the dense, sludgy guitars float between meandering drones to a unique mix of atonal and melodic leads: a menacing building, gradually speeding-up, higher-pitched riff clashing against a heavy drone in the opening build for “Cold Ascending”; or the screeching, robotic lead coupled with the acoustic rhythm section on the breakdown for “Raze the Stray”; or the just swirling, whirling guitars fighting for supremacy on the title track.
The drumming is phenomenal, whether it’s the more traditional metal style found on most of the album or the tribal percussion onslaughts making appearances on the last three tracks, “Cleanse” being the major standout, consisting of around 9 percussionists and some slick didgeridoo (yes, the Australian Aborigine wind instrument), making for a very unique, mystic adventure in the wilderness.
Of course, the album is outstanding in the vocal department. Kelly and Von Till’s screams, bellows, and singing are all done very passionately and expertly, adding so much emotion to every song, particularly in “The Time of Beasts” (by far the most expressive song on the album). On top of that, Dave Edwardson is more in the spotlight on this album that a lot of their other albums with his howling growls, adding a more sinister edge to the music when used, which is not often, adding even more impact to his vocal execution.
Finally, the addition of various electronics, keys, and samples adds an amazingly amount of depth to the music: “Lost” with its eerie opening sample and amazing keyboards later in the song, “Burning Flesh In Year of Pig”, the very necessary breather after the first two monster tracks, or the haunting keys and just strange sounds fluttering around in the background on “Raze the Stray”.
Moreover, the sheer diversity of this album is enough to impress: “Lost”, the building, post-rock-influenced mammoth; “Cold Ascending” and “The Time of Beasts” being the most passionate tracks (the former being an almost-thrash, manic piece with the ladder as the moist anguish-filled track on the album with some very melancholic trumpet playing that enhances the atmosphere greatly); “Burning Flesh in Year of Pig”, wholly electronic; “Cleanse”, the “calm” tribal rampage; “Lexicon” being reminiscent of a more upbeat Khanate mixed with early Mastodon…. Neurosis explore a great deal of territory not common to most sludge, and do it quite successfully.
The only downside to this release is the production, a flaw that is wholly negligible.
This album is most certainly a classic and is highly recommended for sludge fans, metal fans, and people who really appreciate music in general. It’s hard to believe this album came out in ’93 – this was more ahead of its time than Godflesh was during the early nineties, and unfortunately its status hasn’t carried over, solidifying it as an underground-underground classic.
Or then again, maybe not. I thought Khanate was the most extreme band out there, but Neurosis gives them a run for their money with this stunningly inaccessible, super dense slab of noise. There's basically no let up in this album. The spine-chilling intro to Raze the Stray and a few other moments in this album are the only let up from the massive, densely produced pummeling riffs, the overwhelming rhythm section, and the passionate, powerful screams that fill this album. Upon hearing that Cleanse (I got the shortened version, :( ) was a 16 minute long tribal percussion thing, I took heart that at least that might be easy to listen to. Or maybe not. The mystical, unnerving, constant beating of the drums, along with various other noises, is just as massive as the rest of the album.
So it came to the point where I was going to use this CD as a coaster, but then something happened. Riffs, brilliant conceptual songwriting, and just pure genius were coming out of the speakers as opposed to the dense walls of noise that had come out on the previous listen. The screaming started making some sort of sense. A good example of the amazing songwriting buried in this album would be Raze the Stray. After the intro the volume goes straight to "blowing up speakers" level, yet the Piano line that introduced the song is still audible. There's some great tribal drumming in the title track that blows my mind. The Time of the Beast has some great mellow parts, while Lexicon is Neurosis at their most fearsome and primal. The demo version of Takeahnase is pretty cool, though it's surprisingly normal for a Neurosis song. (And it's better produced then the album, which is strange for a Demo version). "Cleanse II" is interesting, but nothing compared to the original at all really. I would've preferred the full length version of Cleanse instead, oh well.
So, let me just warn you all. This is a tough album to get into, and while the rewards are great, it's still a very abrasive recording. If you only like Neurosis's new album, don't get this one. If you only like Gothic crap, don't get this one. It's one massive slab of noise and it should be treated with caution. But, if you like dense (I keep on using that word, but it fits so well!), punishing sludge, you should run out and get this.