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As with all Neurosis albums, the first time I listened to Times of Grace it didn't click with me, in fact, you could even say I downright hated it. I went through a prolonged period of time where I saw Neurosis as nothing more than over hyped post metal band offering very little for me in turns of musical enjoyment. However, after listening through their discography and giving Times of Grace much more time to sink in it begun to grow on me, I started to like it, maybe even love it. Neurosis is a band that is so steeped in complexity that each subsequent listen brings about previously unheard elements.
Times of Grace show Neurosis in transition, the middle point between the densely layered and progressive sound of Through Silver in Blood to the sparser, more folk influenced A Sun That Never Sets. The quieter dynamics that Neurosis have perfected over time are coming a much more prominent force within the music whilst the band still hones their craft of the big riff, and these riffs are really freaking huge. The second track in particular opens with a riff that is one of the bands heaviest moments. The guitars are huge, Steve Albini has done a great job in mixing and mastering this album and as a whole the production is far better than Through Silver in Blood.
Although the band still retains elements of their dense sludge metal, the quieter elements are the stand outs of this album. There’s a much greater focus on atmospheric progression than Through Silver in Blood, the mixture of mellow and harsh sections allows Times of Grace more leeway in exploring atmospheric intensities. There’s a large post rock vibe running throughout the album as the band utilize the quiet-loud dynamic to full effect. As a whole much of the tracks work towards a climax, progressing through quiet, atmospheric sections until the band reaches its final bombastic climax.
The use of different instruments is great too, presenting the album as a grand multi-dimensional opus that runs through many contrasting musical territories yet managing to remain a cohesive entity. Although lacking the raw primal intensity that made Through Silver in Blood such a fantastic record, Times of Grace more than makes up for it through the use of greater experimentation. The ambiance of this album is mind blowing, whether that’s from the creepy synth work of Belief to the post rock inspired sections of The Last You’ll Ever Know, the atmosphere is delivered in spades.
I found that there’s very little to critique about Times of Grace, mixing the harsh, abrasive sound of their earlier days with elements that will come to define their newest releases, Times of Grace is an atmospheric powerhouse unmatched in terms of atmospheric scope and grandeur. As with much of Neurosis’ discography, this is a very bleak, dismal album, and although it never reaches the same monochromatic blankness of A Sun That Never Sets or The Eye of Every Storm, the moods and tones of this album is far beyond what most bands can hope to accomplish. The primal anger that Neurosis deliver has been internalized and as a whole the album is far more introspective than the ones that came before. This isn't an album for those looking for something fun and catchy to listen to; this is deep, poetic music that speaks on an emotional level that is rarely seen. Essential.
For those searching for a weak Neurosis record in the vain hope that they can subject it to substantial amounts of criticism, well, you had better look elsewhere. As far as Neurosis records go, whilst this doesn’t stand firmly at the top of the food chain, it is up there with the best of them, competing for the crown. Once again, Neurosis have managed to create a sublime metaphorical piece. With ‘Times Of Grace’ acting like a supposedly dormant volcano which has suddenly burst into life and begun to stir deep beneath the glowing surface to erupt into many shapes and sizes. This would be best shown in songs such as the magnificent and aptly titled ‘Under The Surface’, which underlines the image of Neurosis as a metaphorical presence due to the fact that it stirs from deep within with it‘s crushing bass and fast flowing drum beats, but is still tremendously beautiful with it‘s mesmerising leads and ambient sections on keyboards. Whilst the foreground is a spectacular haven of beautiful imagery, the background is dark and sinister with an immerging beast beginning to stalk it‘s audience as if they were an oblivious prey.
The career of this illustrious American band is littered with as many delights, such as ’A Sun That Never Sets’ and the laidback and mellow sounds of ’The Eye Of Every Storm, as a sweet shop. This is OUR drug. If the past tells us anything, it is not to expect anything. Neurosis’ journey from a standard hardcore band with punk influences has evolved into an enigmatic beast, experimenting with every passing record. ‘Time Of Grace’ is no different to the other Neurosis records, in the sense that it delivers high quantities of experimentation in almost every sense of the word. Whilst, as I said, this isn’t the definitive Neurosis record (which would be ‘A Sun The Never Sets’ in my eyes), it still deserves an equal amount of plaudits as the rest. Neurosis’ definitive positive, which will be mention time and again as long as people continue to review musical works, is the fact that no matter how much or how little the experimentation factor takes hold, Neurosis always manage to enthral audiences worldwide since the birth of their largely sludge based career.
‘Times Of Grace’ can stand up and take credit for being one of the best sinister sludge based records in the history of the genre. Many people accredit the formation of this genre to bands such as Isis and Neurosis themselves. Whilst that might be true, one can see the other influences that stream through the band like a raging river. The tribal feel. This has long since been a major positive of Neurosis’ game and ‘Times Of Grace’ once again displays this aspect of their music in full view for everyone to see. Generally speaking, the guitars are the main proprietor of this most prosperous sound. There is a distinctive feel to all of Neurosis’ works, so one cannot suggest that ’Times Of Grace’ stands out merely for it’s presence in terms of a distinctive sound because every Neurosis title has it’s own direction and it’s own methods of getting to the destination which, in this case, is to a far more aggressive spot that, lets say, ’The Eye Of Every Storm’ decided to venture to.
Of course, whilst Neurosis do manage to successfully fuse the eerily sinister nature with the tribal genius, the experimentation factor of the instrumentation never allows for Neurosis to become dull, especially on this piece with it’s use of immaculate clean guitars, keyboards and once again, outstanding vocals from the leading man behind the microphone. The sheer amount of instruments used on this piece will show how far Neurosis are willing to take the experimentation - the cello, tuba, violin, trombone and even bagpipes are including on this piece. The brilliance of the song writing has to be given a mention because, which songs like the sombre ‘Away’ will show, though there may be an abundance of instruments used on this record, they’re all used well and effectively. Due to the classically controlled production, the musicianship of the band members is gloriously and justly magnified by the clear and concise sound of the production. There are a number of bands out there, in the metal world, who try and fail miserably to incorporate a variety of instruments into their soundscapes. Neurosis, on the other hand, manage to successfully do this and in the process, create a number of varied and interesting soundscapes which are all brilliantly portrayed well due to the top notch production that Neurosis use.
Once again, Neurosis have managed to bridge the gap between using harsh and mellow music all on the same record. The essence of Neurosis seems to be to lead it’s audience into a false sense of security, and then pounce upon their unknowing mind, body and soul by claiming another scalp through mellow passages, which are conveyed through acoustics, ambience and spoken vocals and are then followed up by harsher sections, which is where the distinctive screamed vocals come into play, distortion takes hold and the percussion is let loose on it’s undeserving audience with uncompromising use of cymbals and double bass. The aggression behind the record is different to any other Neurosis record, making it fresh and instantly likeable. Lyrically, the themes are portrayed through even more angst and testosterone -
“Behind a burning red fog
the great mind swims in confusion
its blood ferments in anger
honour and wisdom will cower
Your river's flow is damned all to hell
Drifting in a current to stagnate
encircle the vision of rust
Your river's flow is damned all to hell.”
As far as negative points go, one struggles to think of any worth mentioning. The bass, can, at times lag behind the rest, but the sheer amount of distortion on the aggressive patches of play takes over the mood anyway and when slower passages are produced, the bass stands up and is counted for. Immense.
I'm a big fan of "Souls At Zero", standing by that album as one of the best albums by anybody. Ever. Neurosis' next two albums were both good, but my expectations were lifted high enough by "Souls At Zero" that I was a bit disappointed in them. Then came "Times Of Grace", lurching out of the shadow that "Souls" had cast.
It fades in with a dreary synthesizer tune that's short but sweet, followed by "In The Doorway" which is my least favorite song on the album (and the reason for a 99 and not a 100). The song is heavy and driving but, like their previous two albums, just a bit on the dull side of the spectrum. Good but not great.
But next comes "Under The Surface" which opens with a solid tribal beat and Steve Von Till's kickass screaming vocals. Somewhere in there the song actually gets louder than it started out being, which seems almost impossible (and which will totally fuck your speakers up if you're not careful). It quiets down for exactly long enough with some ambient noise, only to erupt once again with deafening anger and sadness that Neurosis convey with such perfection.
The entire length of "Times Of Grace" drifts easily from wistful ambience to primal rage, namely in "Descent" and in "Away". Between those two songs is a weird yet catchy bagpipe tune that hints at more greatness to come from their following releases. It ends with a pleasantly sad little tune that somehow manages to successfully incorporate horns and a strummed accoustic guitar, rising to an epic climax before finally lulling into silence.
Then you press "Play" and listen to the album again. I've been doing that for about 9 years now and I still haven't gotten sick of it.
Neurosis's discography can probably be divided into three parts. The crusty hardcore beginnings, into the dense progressive monster they where for much of the nineties, and finally into the more sparse and folk influenced that there last two albums were. While most of their 90's stuff is much loved and worshipped, you can only take one style of music too far. (Unless if you're in Slayer or AC/DC.) In this album, Neurosis take their dense Prog-metal as far as they could possibly do it, and at the same time, they start looking to new places to take their sounds. The result is a slightly disjointed but still fairly awesome cd.
The introduction is a deceptively gentle and atmospheric piece of mood setting, with some cool and unusual instrumentation, but as soon as the next song kicks in, all hell breaks loose. The Doorway is one of the heaviest songs Neurosis have ever done, with huge riffs and pounding drumming over some fierce and unnerving screaming. The guitars sound massive, and the production as a whole is far better then Through Silver in Blood. Steve Albini did a great job here. The next track is another old style Neurosis tune, full of the awesome tribal drumming and walls of guitar that Neurosis are known for.
There are a few surprises here though. Belief has some strange synths and there's a lot more focus on atmosphere, on tension, then there is in most Neurosis songs. Descent is a pretty cool interlude with some bagpipes and some great marching band style drumming. Sure it's just an interlude, but Neurosis had never done anything like that before. Away takes a very long time to go anywhere, and for the first six minutes or so it's a very slow, mellow jam with violin, piano, guitar and some clean vocals (!!!).
The only real complaint I have about this album is the track ordering, with the ending of the album being a bit anticlimatic. For the most part though, this is a very cool CD with a lot of different stuff being attempted. This CD is surely a few years ahead of it's time too. In 1999 Isis were still a crusty doom band, and Cult of Luna, Pelican, etc., probably hadn't even formed yet. The use of lots of different instruments is great too. Recommended!
The gentle Eastern flavoured bleeps and chords of "Suspended In Light" cannot prepare the unwary listener for the next harrowing 64 minutes of their life.
All of a sudden, the gentle sounds are gone, and a veritable rockfall of hulking, scathing guitars are crashing around you, scraping the skin from the inside of your ear canals. Acidic voices screech from the hellish Golgotha emanating from the speakers. There is little respite. There is no let up. Track after bludgeoning track smashes against the bulkhead of your sanity, or trickles delicately across your subconscious. Welcome to the psychosis of Neurosis.
Neurosis don't create songs as such, but geological epochs of immense sound, bordering on noise, but held on the teetering balance between control and chaos. You don't so much listen to this album as you do absorb it. Distortion drips from everything, like water dripping from the walls of a darkened cave. It is dark, brooding, and brutal, but doesn't sound anything like Death Metal or Black Metal. This transcends categorisation. There is layer upon layer of sound in a complex laminate, which at times could be random, because it meshes too perfectly to possibly be created by human hands.
Many questions are posed, only a few are answered. How are these sounds being made? Why are they so loud? Why is there such a compulsion to keep listening? Why doesn't this get boring? Why didn't I listen to this years ago? Why doesn't this sell millions?
Forget artificial stimulants that need to be inhaled, ingested or injected. 'Times Of Grace' will induce a perfectly safe, perfectly legal altered state of consciousness.