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In 1990, Neurosis released their second album, Word As Law, on vinyl. This version contained eight tracks. A year later, they released it on cd, adding seven additional bonus tracks. These included re-recordings of several songs as well as a cover and a new track.
Word As Law features different production than their debut. While this by no means has a polished production, Pain Of Mind was much more raw. The gritty punk energy is not as well captured on their sophomore. One thing that may strike some people as odd about this album is the bass; it is not unusual for it to be higher in the mix than the electric guitar. There are some truly killer bass lines, but at times it can become distracting. Songs like "Double-Edged Sword" and the fantastic "Tomorrow's Reality" confirm that Neurosis is still strongly rooted in the punk scene. One thing that makes "Tomorrow's Reality" awesome is the dynamic between the two singers, something that's not as prevalent on this album as it was on the debut. While Neurosis would come to be much more metaphorical in their lyrics, lines like "today's nightmare is tomorrow's reality" shows that Neurosis is still sticking with the political lyrics typical to punk bands. The creeping atmospheric section in "To What End?", the lingering guitar at the beginning of "Insensitivity", and their attempt at a new style of song with "Blisters" show Neurosis trying to do something atypical and new.
Five of the seven tracks added for the 1991 version are re-recordings. While decent, a few of the re-recordings aren't exactly necessary. The only one that could really be considered an improvement would be "Life on Your Knees". The bass is awesome on this version and the production and vocals are much more powerful. The forceful yells of "life on your knees, get down on your knees" is one of the best parts of this record. "Pain Of Mind" is a decent re-recording with the riff becoming much more crushing. The version of "Pollution" featured on this record is completely unnecessary. It is basically just a more sanitized version of the original. "Grey" is especially disappointing. While the chorus was one of the best parts of Pain Of Mind, they change the timing of the vocals on this version, destroying what made the song special.
"Day Of Lords" is a cover of a haunting Joy Division song. It is really something to admire when a band can take an amazing song and make a high quality cover in a completely different style than the original. Neurosis keep the song slow and use an almost doom metal approach. Like the original, the Neurosis version is strong on the atmosphere front, but their version evokes a completely different ambiance than Joy Division. The album ends with an untitled track that is pretty much ten minutes of weird feedback, evoking a creepy mood. This is one of those tracks you have to be in the right mood for or it won't be enjoyable at all. While it would have been alright if this track was four or five minutes long, but ten is just too damn long. While longer song lengths are often needed to establish atmosphere, a shorter length would have sufficiently done so here. This track is notable because it foreshadows Tribes Of Neurot, Neurosis's ambient side project, which began releasing music in 1995.
This record shows Neurosis in a transition between their punk roots and coming to their own unique sound. Word As Law tends to lean more on the punk side, but there are numerous hints at their future style. Steve Von Till has said during this period they wanted to create something more, but weren't yet able to bring to life what they heard in their heads. This is something that would become realized two years later with the release of the groundbreaking Souls At Zero. While this album undoubtedly contains some really great songs, not all of them are amazing. Also, the album (with the 7 new tracks) does seem a little long and can be a bit much for one sitting and is something more variety would have remedied. Despite probably being Neurosis's least enjoyable full length, it is a very important part of their discography as it shows them beginning to deviate from genre based restrictions.
Before they started releasing perplexing, monolithic slabs of punk/metal/ambient noise, Neurosis were a left of field hardcore band. While their debut album, Pain of Mind was a fairly straight ahead hardcore/thrash album, this album shows Neurosis stretching out a bit more, though this album is still very primitive compared to Souls at Zero.
One of the things most people will be surprised at is how damn loud the bass is. It's a great showcase for Dave Edwardson- a lot of the bass lines are really damn good, and there's a few particularly hard bits, like in Obsequious Obsolesence. Still, it would be good if the guitars were up a bit more. Otherwise though, the rest of the band haven't really achieved the brilliance they would get later. There's very little of the awesome tribal drumming we all know and love, the guitars don't really pack any punch, especcially when compared to, say, Raze the Stray from Enemy of the Sun, and while the vocalists are indeed passionate, with the exception of Dave's low growl, they sound quite screechy and immature.
Still, there are some good songs here. Pain of Mind is full of energy, The Choice has some decent lyrics and is real entertaining, and Tomorrow's Reality has a lot of great basslines and some interesting riffs, along with some effective tempo changes. It is a shame though, as whenever Neurosis get a bit interesting in this album, like Pollution and Common Inconsistencies, it doesn't take too long before they're going straight back into the shouty, hardcore punk stuff. There's also a tendency to lose focus, like in Pollution, To What End?, and.. almost every track. Oh well.
Basically, I didn't really like this album that much. The bass playing is excellent, and there is some interesting guitar riffs to be found here and there, but for the most part, this is the sound of a band that had a good idea of what they wanted to do, but completely stuffed up the execution. Still, I don't mind, because they did execute perfectly in what, the next 6 or so albums? Nonetheless, this release is for Neurosis completists only.