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This monolith of experimentation and vigour shows Neurosis coming into their own. While they would ultimately go for a sludgier brand of experimentation, this is the most visceral music they have ever recorded. This raw energy is evened out by twisting psychedelia, a vast array of additional instrumentation and countless layers of intricate nuances. This is something that could truly only be captured at a certain moment in time by these certain musicians - it's elaborate sound is all but impossible to recreate, which goes a long way to explain why the album enjoys a high degree of positive reception but does not have hordes of imitators - something their later albums would spawn. This is something truly special that doesn't come along very often - a wholly unique album, impossible to pigeonhole by genre, that cuts deep, and is so intricate that after dozens of listens new details are still revealing themselves to you.
Recorded a mere two years later, Souls At Zero - which gets it's name from a chapter in Clive Barker's The Great And Secret Show - comes on the heels of The Word As Law. This predecessor was the last Neurosis album to be predominantly in the vein of hardcore punk. The band says they had the seeds planted with occasional experimental passages, but they couldn't bring what they had in their heads to life. Before that the band played pure hardcore punk rather successfully. While the influence still lingers, Souls At Zero shows Neurosis moving far beyond the hardcore punk template into something much more adventurous and unknown. It is simply astounding how the band managed to progress so much in terms of both vision and musical ability in a mere two years.
This album is truly progressive - not as in it has a proggy sound by any means, but as in what true progressive music is - that which moves music forward by exploring new avenues. This doesn't sound remotely like anything else before or after the fact. It is certainly apparent that bands take some influence by it - but they usually adapt these influences onto a different template. For example some black metal bands such as Cobalt and Jumalhämärä take the occasional queue from this album. Not surprisingly, some influence from this seeps into the sound of bands that take a queue from the template that Neurosis laid out, but the bands just about unanimously take on the sludgier sound that Neurosis would come across on their next album, Enemy Of The Sun. That album basically started the whole post-metal/atmospheric sludge (or whatever the hell they're calling it now) scene. This album stands completely on it's own as a wholly unique sound.
The sound is a vast tapestry of varied influences and styles. At this point the heavier aspects have one foot in the metal pantheon with the other being firmly rooted in the punk scene. There is still some hardcore present in their sound, albeit in a highly evolved form. A gritty crust edge also makes it's presence known. Many of the riffs are most certainly metallic, with doom metal playing a large role in the music. The riffs tend to be varied, with both vicious scorchers and crawling dirges. It is at this point were the band really started experimenting with weird guitar tones and alternative tunings. This release is generally much more down tuned than the previous hardcore recordings.
Psychedelia also plays a large role in the construction of this album. Not that the band draws on the most obvious tropes of the genre - they adapt it into their own sound. This is manifested with seasick clean guitar sections enhanced by strange timbres. This is also often backed by additional instrumentation, such as the flute. These section bleed otherworldly atmosphere. These passages twist and turn, winding their way into the subconscious. Psychedelia also works it's way into some of the distorted guitar tones. After the opening sample is finished on "Takeanhase" a slow massive bass line is added, featuring quite the psych-heavy sound. This influence is perfectly moulded to the sound, creating bizarre atmospheres.
All instruments feature not only genuinely enthralling execution, but provide something original. The bass is used as much more than a supporting instrument. It hangs incredibly low, adding a great degree of depth. It is not unusual for the guitars to stop for a short while to leave an incredibly heavy bass trudging forward with it's earth-shaking tone. On the first real riff of the title track, the last note for the guitar is sustained in a drone, letting the bass fill in the rest of the pieces. Jason Roeder's drumming would become known for their immense tribal rhythms. Here, that is somewhat present, but in a more primordial form. There are certainly hints of what's to come. By the drum break in album starter "To Crawl Under One's Skin", it becomes immediately becomes apparent that Jason has transformed into an absolute beast behind the kit. The gritty production on the kit makes the music all the more visceral. The patterns he comes up with are consistently interesting and hard-hitting.
Featuring a tri-vocal assault, Steve, Scott and Edward all give an unforgiving and powerful performance. The vocals really have the grit and filthy fervour of crust punk, which really shouldn't be all that surprising seeing as they came out of hardcore. Dave's performance is the biggest outlier in the group. Being extremely low and almost inhuman, his vocals provide yet another unique entity to this recording. Both other vocalists have tendencies to sing at somewhat higher pitches, which Scott's voice being particularly raspy. However, Steve has plenty of instances were his voice goes lower, especially during his cleaner melodic parts. The interplay between the three vocalists is incredible, they sometimes play off each other, with one providing a line and the other jumping in almost as if to answer it.
The floodgates have been open when it comes to the song writing. All this instrumental exploration would be cheapened if it didn't have strong songs to anchor it. Like many things in the album, variety is key, yet it all has something in common and sounds like one cohesive album. In some respects many of the songs are written like hardcore songs at their core, although completely transformed by the instrumentation. The songwriting is solid enough that if stripped down to it's hardcore roots and played in the same fashion as their first album, the songs would still be worth listening to. It's the expansive instrumentation that really bring these songs to life and make them something truly rare and unforgettable, though.
The use of sampling enhances the atmosphere and adds intrigue. The album starts with a sampled piece about media purported confusion - the double layering of the same voice sample with a slight delay really gets across that feeling of disorientation. The sample at the beginning of "The Web" that goes "I am my own god, my own jury, my own executioner" starts it off in a truly chilling manner. The samples are not only limited to spoken word. On the addition of using samplers Steve Von Till says: "There was a whole sound palate outside of traditional instruments. We heard about people using samplers and wondered if we could do it. If you wanted to make your music sound like a train crash, you could get a sampler and make the train crash. Why not have sounds of the environment and beasts and nature all be part of your palate? There wasn’t anyone playing like that. We found a guy who was into goth (Simon McIllroy) and had a synthesizer and sampler and we dove in". This culminates in some truly weird and unexpected sounds. A sample in the title track does indeed sound like the roar of an ancient primordial beast.
The additional instrumentation is truly impressive - they managed to find guest spots for a violin, viola, trumpet, flute and cello. This allows for something incredibly different to occur. They both bolster the atmosphere in the background and take over in the foreground when needed. One of the greatest moments of the albums is a riff in "Stripped" - the first part is ended by a string section and the second part is ended by what sounds like church bells. It sounds completely cinematic. From the trumpet in "Sterile Vision" to the strings in "A Chronology For Survival", this additional instrumentation makes the music all the more epic. Simon's keyboard proves to be a worthy addition, as well. All this came from the band members realizing that the sounds they had in their heads couldn't all be achieved by guitars alone. It's also something that could have been a complete mess. The band says that they really didn't know what they were doing and it was a learning experience. They just let the guest musicians find their place and it ended up working out absolutely perfectly. It almost feels like this album was created by some divine intervention - a young band coming out of raw hardcore decided to do something more just went with what could have ended up being a jumbled mess and everything ended up fitting perfectly, culminating in one of the most unique and inspired pieces not just in punk and metal but in general. Being mixed by punk legend Jello Biafra (who the band says later screwed them over financially) couldn't have hurt, though. This was also originally released on his label, Alternative Tentacles.
Lyrically, this also shows a push for something greater. Although some of this content is there through metaphors, there is no straight ahead political lyrics. Although still retaining a dirty punk edge, the lyrics are draped in imagery and their meaning is no longer made so readily blatant:
"No seed will grow of this barren earth. Our hope
unborn has died. I've slept in the dirt under the light
of the moon and I know our souls have perished.
Calling to those that would hear but I am deaf.
Clawing at those that would feel but I am dead to my
Although in a way all Neurosis albums could be considered transitional records as the next album always evolves off of what came before, Word As Law came off as especially transitional as new elements were added to the raw hardcore - a (somewhat unsuccessful) push towards something greater. Souls At Zero can also be seen as a particularly transitional album in their career as it provides that something more while being removed from the sound they later took on. Their next album would prove to be the first sludge album with highly atmospheric and experimental sensibilities (and remember, this is still very near the beginning of sludge metal). The title track is probably the biggest indicator to what they would turn into. Featuring one of the best intros to a metal song ever, an eerie and engaged one with gradually added layers, this track is more doom oriented than the rest. While perhaps not full on sludge, it does mix doom with some hardcore stylings. The shift in dynamics apparent in Enemy Of The Sun comes from letting go of the cerebral process and playing from the gut. The riffs aren't as sharp and immediate as they are here, they are sludgy and the type that gradually draw you into the atmosphere rather than hitting you right away. On the title track the playing is much more closer to what's to come - the riffs are drawn out, the songwriting more sparse and a larger focus on garnering a certain feeling through a lingering atmosphere.
Coming from the punk scene, the band's DIY ethic should be expected. They said they got much of how they run their affairs from the attitude of hardcore legends (and one of the main inspirations for sludge) Black Flag. Neurosis would later go on to run their own record label, Neurot Recordings. Steve, being very much into the 1973 cult classic The Wicker Man, wanted to use the still of the burning wicker man from the movie but the band could not afford the several thousand that this would end up costing. In true DIY spirit, they built their own, being encircled by a serpent swallowing it's tail on the album cover.
The album was reissued twice - once in 1999 with three added bonus tracks and once again in 2011 with the bonus tracks retained as well as new artwork. The artwork makes sense as they wanted to reissue their discography to have it all conform to a certain aesthetic so that all of them would look natural on a shelf next to each other. The bonus tracks, however, were not the best move. They include two demos of tracks on the album as well as a new track. While they are actually quite good, they just don't belong on the album. This record is a slab of towering grandeur, something truly captivating. Throwing some extra bonus tracks at the end kind of ruin the cohesive nature of this beast, and while good the added tracks can't touch what's on the original album. It just kind of cheapens the experience, which is why getting the original album if at all possible is advisable (or you could always just end it early). One track is a rawer version of the title track, although not as strong as the original, the wandering bass is quite interesting. The second is the first incarnation of "Zero", a track which follows "Souls At Zero" on the album, with the intro lingering back with samples added on top. There isn't really much point in listening to this as it isn't much different than the album version which does it much better. The star attraction of the bonus material is "Cleanse III (Live In London)". Like the original "Cleanse", which would appear on Enemy Of The Sun, this is an epic drum jam. Weird psychedelics are added over the top. This is definitely an intriguing track, although it still not one that should have been tacked onto the end of this album.
This album is a rare occurrence. It's something so gripping and involved that it never gets old, something so intricate that new facets are always revealing themselves to the listener. It pulled something out of nothing, creating a wholly unique sound. The sonic pallet used on this album is vast, encapsulating a vast array of different timbres. Sous At Zero is grandiose, visceral and cinematic. This recording is an enigmatic occurrence, and no words could ever truly do it justice.
We can call this one a classic, can't we? It's considered a monumental release by one of the most important experimental bands ever...not to mention "Souls at Zero" has stood the test of time and remains a mandatory listen for those of us that walk the thin line of genius and insanity which interconnects experimental metal with the rest of the world, so yea, why not? The sense of hidden horrors and equations of the unspeakable Neurosis achieved throughout “Souls at Zero” remains one of the most unique and haunting atmospheres ever captured. It's just one of those albums that has an undetectable presence to it; something unexplainably abstract, yet excellently molded.
And holy fish-sticks, it is a giant in a land of midgets. The dudes of Neurosis are excellent at writing songs that progress (key word) their identity with bizarre riffs, melodies, tunings, techniques, bass scales, vocal samples, and so many other inclusions that somehow collide and form Neurosis’ extraterrestrial genetics. But those of you not into abnormal equations will be quite fond of the mega-heavy production which crushes and grinds during every second. I’m sounding vague, but Neurosis are hard to describe; their approach here really can't be labeled with a genre-tag, as there are times when the band is simply out of definition. For example, Scott Kelly somehow manages his wailing yells to synthesize against the outlandish melodies and mechanical riffs that mince and pound in a strange, atmospheric equation beyond the realms of basic music throughout "To Crawl Under One's Skin," and the result is just...formless.
But the great thing about Neurosis is that this beast that blessed them...this possession of some ancient spirit that makes Neurosis so volatile and singular never, ever exiles. "Souls at Zero" does not have a concrete 'direction' that it follows. Instead, Neurosis are able to make each track stand on its own feet through stellar repetition on the title track(!) or creating psychotic interludes throughout "Flight." You need to really pay attention though: sometimes Neurosis will churn out an energetic, fast-paced riff that will suddenly be placed underneath slow percussion, soft guitar strums, and melancholic vocals instead of leading the band's charge; it sounds crazy and deceptive, but so fantastic at the same time.
The tribal influence Neurosis incorporates remains one of the group’s signature qualities, but its presence during “Souls at Zero” is in a strange, prototypical stage forming itself throughout flutes, keyboards, brass instruments, and Jason Roeder’s algorithmic percussion which correlates with tribal beats and sophistications. “Sterile Vision” and “A Chronology for Survival” are easily some of my favorite tracks from “Souls at Zero,” mainly because the tribal touch is so fluent and open-ended that the instrumental possibilities beneath said-feel adapt with Neurosis’ annihilative heaviness majestically, and produce wonderful, unique expressions. Additional perceptions make appearances too, such as Gregorian chant on “Stripped,” samples during “Takeahnase,” or cellos, horns, the whole orchestra of the underworld. There is simply too much experimental gold here; most attempt the feat, but Neurosis remains dimensions ahead.
I'm going to give you some guidance and tell you to just listen to the damn record, because no review or reviewer can properly channel its angular sense of depravity or the black divinity within its soul that flows like a leaf in rushing water with a five-paragraph analysis. "Souls at Zero" is something that needs to be heard to believed. Throw whatever preferences you have about experimental music out the window and let Neurosis cover your thoughts with its infinite depth of knowledge and rage...just be careful to not get lost in the maddening maze of torment yourself.
This review was written for: www.Thrashpit.com
I wasn't gonna bother reviewing an album that's nearly 20 years old cos so much has been done since then that it seems kinda pointless, but then I decided that I have to put my two cents in. "Souls At Zero" kicks ass. Always has, always will. I listen to it now and my opinion of it hasn't changed in 17 years. I don't like it cos it's nostalgic, I like it cos it's probably the best fuckin record I've ever heard.
Neurosis pissed off alot of punks when they made this album cos it was metal, though I'm not sure how many metalheads really got into it at the time. They dared to sonically purge their anger and sadness without giving a fuck about pleasing anybody or kissing their fans' asses. And that, my friends, is punk as fuck. I remember getting in arguments with my buddies back in the day cos I insisted that it's influenced by Pink Floyd (a major league no-no for punk music). Plenty of soft, gloomy guitar intros. Plenty of spoken word samples regarding insanity and humanity's demise. The Native American man warning that "we are not following the law of the Great Spirit" that leads into "Takeahnase" still sends chills up my spine. That song, by the way, is probably my favorite on the album, simple and catchy with a chorus that I find myself wishing would never end.
Still adhering to their punk roots, the talented bass-playing finds a decent level of prominence throughout the record. Like I said before, many of the songs start off soft and dreary before the guitars erupt. I'm a sucker for that shit. The opening song, "To Crawl Under One's Skin", has everything that I've mentioned so far in this review. The howling vocals harmonize with the chaotic yet melodic guitars perfectly. The only problem I have with it is that there's a simple little guitar riff towards the end of the song that I wish would've been in there longer.
The title track ends about three times before it actually ends. And by the time it does end, you're wondering if that wierd little insane asylum guitar lick is gonna come back around one more time and give you deja vu. This song goes really well with inhalants.
Well, fuck. I could go on about this all night, but the damn record's old enough that it doesn't really matter. Listen to it, though. It's not just good for its time, it's fuckin good. "Sterile Vision" is another of my favorite tracks, the vocals absolutely screaming the latter half of the song, somehow managing to utilize some kind of horn (sorry, I'm not a fuckin horn expert) in the midst of all the sadness and the madness and the badness. I like everything Neurosis has done since "Souls At Zero" but honestly, I don't think they ever topped it. Nobody else has, either.
Here we go, Neurosis, the ultimate influence and a band who simply loves to change with every full-length. 'Souls At Zero' was a major turning point in the careers of the Neurosis musicians at the time. It was signified by the transition from hardcore influenced music to amazing band we have today. This particular full-length is where Neurosis really started to experiment with their sound. Taking elements from a wide range of genres such as; post-hardcore, sludge and even the unique sound of tribal music which flows throughout every single Neurosis full-length since this one.
Experimentation is Neurosis' middle name. They dissect genres and bring them back to life, both new and improved. This is a band that has been granted a great deal of respect and admiration. 'Souls At Zero' is where that respect began to increase tenfold. It will go down in the history books of the metal genre for being where their career really began to take off and also, where the influence for so many others bands including; Isis, Cult Of Luna and many others took their influences from. 'Souls At Zero' isn't the highlight of a glittering career, but it certainly is an important full-length. As important as they get really.
When you strip the works of Neurosis down, what you find is a sea of complexity. Neurosis may seem simplistic on the surface, but what flows beneath is what counts. Neurosis are a bad to suit every mood and there aren't many bands that can say that. Neurosis have an astounding ability to be able to mesmerise. Listening to Neurosis is like taking a potent drug, it's intoxicating and captivating. Neurosis will invoke hallucination in the audience with their straight forward, no nonsense styling. 'Souls At Zero' is a unique full-length for several reasons. No one can deny how dazzling and delightful that tribal feel is. A vast array of textures is layered on to 'Souls At Zero'. It gets it's tribal feel from using keyboards, flutes, violins and whatever instruments the Neurosis musicians can get their hands on.
'Souls At Zero' is the epitome of experimentation. The use of several instruments allows Neurosis to showcase what brilliant musicians they are. Therefore, we can mark this full-length up when it comes to musicianship and songwriting, both of which are outstanding. Neurosis have come a long way since the days of their straight up hardcore style. This indicates that. Not at any stage does this style make Neurosis seem unprofessional. It's an accomplished piece of fine art. The musicianship is a stark indication of that. Everything has improved since the beginning. From the percussion to the vocals, it has all been bettered.
Neurosis have a wild side, that much is true. They like aggression and 'Souls At Zero' is packed full of it. This can be seen it the harsh riffs that tumble out from the speakers and the overwhelming vocals. Lyrically, Neurosis portray several different issues. They aim to connect with a wide ranging audience and their music certainly does so.
"Bury me in a shallow grave. So the rain will
wash me away. And the sun will burn my soul
and the earth will feed on me."
Using such imagery is healthy for Neurosis. It appeals to the senses in man. What with the sparkling vocal performance, these issues are brought across to the audience with anger, venom and wrath. Elements that make Neurosis a captivating listen. Neurosis' lyrics can always be analysed in great detail, which I love. I see Neurosis' lyrics as them using personification. "So the rain will wash me away" in particular. This feeling could be used to describe how Neurosis' ambient tribal sound washes over it's audience and feeds them with the necessities of life.
The production is thick and heavy, this is where the new sludge side to the band comes into play. It's an appealing new quality. It slowly enhances that aggressive feel that weaves it's way in and out of Neurosis' soul. Prepare for your being to be encapsulated by 'Souls At Zero'. This is Neurosis in all their spell binding glory.
In 1992 Neurosis released what was their best album, and one that would stand the test of time. Having heard Neurosis first on a mix tape given to me by a friend, I had to have more from this band. This was about 1995, I was about twelve at the time. So the first album I buy is Souls at Zero. Back then, I wasn't really sure what to think (considering I was going through a hardcore/punk phase). As I grew older, the album grew on me.
This album, for its time, was one of the only albums like this in metal. Yes one could say that bands like Christ on a Crutch and others were hinting at this, but nothing was recording previous of this enormity. This album reminds the listener of sludgy post-Neurosis bands (such as Buzzoven's Sore) but the album is really so much more than that. The guitar work on this album is not overdone or over distorted to the point of being overbearing, much like thier two later works. The vocals hold a certain emotion and fit the music perfectly. The drums have that Neurosis tribal feel to them, but a lot less percussion oriented than Enemy of the Sun. The music is slowed down from their previous hardcore works, but still a heavy slow, not slow as in a doom metal band, but a slow sound that sticks to your ears as you're listening.
Another interesting aspect of the album is use of instruments rarely found in metal (at least back in 1992). The accompanyment of violins, cellos, and french horns add a certain dynamic aspect that was not heard often in music of this caliber.
This album is not one to look at just in retrospect, because it holds its ground today. When faced with the opposition of the genre they created (Isis, Cult of Luna, etc). this album blows the others out of the water.
This album cleary shows the transition from the more hardcore oriented Word as Law to the more tribal feeling Through Silver in Blood (Enemy of the Sun furthered the sound a little more, but without the immense effect this album had).
This album is recommended to fans of sludgy styled metal, as well as anyone looking for an absolute metal classic. This album should be among every metalheads collection. Eleven years after purchasing this album, it is still constanty in my rotation.
The first song off this album I heard was "Takeahnase" (well, the demo version that's on the 'Enemy of the Sun' re-release), and I was blown away. When I finally bought the album and listened to it, I felt that it was easily one of the best metal albums ever. That was well over a year ago, and I still feel the same way. This is a practically perfect album. They took their early thrash/hardcore crossover sound and gave it a more experimental and progressive sound, like in the direction of later albums 'Through Silver in Blood' and 'Times of Grace.' The album is simply amazing. "Takeahnase," the opener "To Crawl Under One's Skin," and the title track are just simply fantastic, "The Web" and "Flight" must be great moshers at shows, and "Sterile Vision," "Stripped" and "A Chronology for Survival" are more laid back, but still rockout as much as everything else on the album. As for the short interlude tracks ("Zero" and "Empty"), you practically need them in there to balance everything out, and yet, they don't slow the album down at all.
Over the 12 years that have passed since this album's release, the band has changed quite a bit, many would say that their more recent sound is better than in the past, but 'Souls at Zero' will remain one of their best, period.