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A Modest Offering - 80%

Thumbman, March 23rd, 2017

While random EPs have not been part of Neurosis's modus operandi since the early hardcore days, there's a specific reason why Sovereign happened. For Times of Grace they worked with notorious engineer Steve Albini for the first time and ended up booking more studio time then they needed as Steve is one efficient motherfucker and they were used to taking way longer to make an album. A fuckton of material was the result, and this EP was pulled from those sessions. The songs that made it onto the album did for a reason, but that doesn't mean this is disposable extra material. Even if the songwriting isn't to the usual standard, there's a lot of interesting experimentation on display.

Sovereign plays it a lot more loose with the songwriting than is usual for Neurosis, which is a big part of why it's a less essential release. However, this allows for much more experimentation; they often drift into soundscape territory. Don't be too alarmed, though. There's still a few tasty big riffs. I'm particularly partial to the big churning one in the title track. While the focus is often on stuff other than big riffs, this is not a pleasant journey by any means. There's a fair bit of ultra-creepy droning guitar lines, a reasonable amount of dissonance and even material verging on dark ambient. "Flood" is basically a particularly dark Tribes of Neurot track with some bleak guitar drones and awesome tribal drumming. There's a lot of tribal tom-tom drumming on Sovereign, which gives a war-like backbone to sonic exploration. Much of the vocal work is still fierce and crusty as fuck, with Ed hitting it out of the park in "An Offering", essentially giving the last great performance on a Neurosis song (really wish they'd start using him again, he would have sounded great on Given to the Rising and Fires Within Fires).

This is often viewed as a transitional release between Times of Grace and A Sun that Never Sets and I'm a lot less inclined to believe this than I used to be. The obvious thread connecting them is "Prayer". The guitar riff is exactly the same as the vocal phrasing on "Roots Run Dry". There's a fair amount of clean vocals on Sovereign, which would be featured heavily on the next two Neurosis albums. "Sovereign" does give some indication of where they're headed (but honestly not nearly as much as, say, "Belief" off of Times). There's some fairly melodic leads piercing through the grimy gloom and the song relies heavily on a soft-loud crescendo based dynamic that almost reminds of post-rock and is something their later releases would feature heavily (not that they didn't already do a lot of experimentation with dynamics). Ultimately, though, this is a hell of a lot more like Times of Grace than A Sun that Never Sets. Hardly surprising, seeing as this was recorded during the Times of Grace sessions.

While hardly an essential component to the vast Neurosis discography, Sovereign is a nice treat for diehards. Although the songwriting is not up to the usual standard, there's lots of weird sonic exploration going down. From the meditative main riff on "Prayer" to Ed's cavernous bellows on "An Offering", from the hypnotic tribal drums on "Flood" to the crushing riff and the creepy piano section on "Sovereign", each song is not without its highlights. Definitely give it a listen if you're reasonably familiar with the band's discography and like what you've heard. Just don't expect to get from it the same thing you'd get from an album. In a lot of ways this is probably as close to Tribes of Neurot as Neurosis proper will ever get. Obviously newcomers to the band shouldn't start with this, but you're kind of a weirdo if you start with a random EP, anyway.

The Road to Sovereignty - 68%

GuntherTheUndying, October 3rd, 2011

The harbingers of the so-called "post-metal" postulate were riding fairly high on creative wings after Neurosis tossed away the punk theme and shifted into one of the most radical and bloodcurdling identities ever documented. The multi-layered facet that included sludge, tribal elements and dark ambient could only scratch the surface of Neurosis' subconscious, and the group was enjoying a stint of consistent, otherworldly albums which redefined much of what metal was conceived to be by the time of "Sovereign." The small release (by Neurosis standards, anyway) features just a few tracks that pasteurize the agonizing thoughts and feelings created by Scott Kelly and the remaining members of this esoteric faction with the typical Neurosis mediums of depravity and perplexing cataclysm, although the overall content is a little lacking compared to the usual Neurosis output.

The provided songs function in the same sludgy atmosphere that Neurosis has eroded throughout their career, maybe dancing around an edge of minimalism or a perceived sense of something digestible, maybe even a little meditative. The opening "Prayer" summons seven minutes of corrosive guitar work nodding in and out of a hypnotic rhythm underneath tribal percussion, and the cut simply slithers in and out of a number of passages that flow in the same spectrum of sound. Overall not a bad tune. This blueprint is pretty much what the other tracks follow, albeit at different levels of content compared to the attractive opener. "An Offering," for instance, is a fatigued number compared to the other tunes; there's just not a pinnacle moment during "An Offering" that makes the listener gawk at the perceived product.

The title track, however, circles back to the success of "Prayer" with over ten minutes of neuroticism, whipping through acidic sections of redefined post-rock, crushing sludge, bombastic vocals and the usual experimental strangeness of Neurosis, all packaged neatly and ready to go. A good song, but it's quite a fragile piece compared to other epics like "To Crawl Under One's Skin" or "Purify" which trend through an array of emotions and colors, and that unnamable process has minimal impact on "Sovereign" and its collage of tunes. The instrumental "Flood" works as a cool transition between songs, but again, the extra nudge of power isn't as mighty.

The essentials are there, the writing sticks, the performances are tight and electric, but the threshold of brilliance is only slashed by the impending assault instead of blown to smithereens. "Sovereign" is an acceptable product that fully deserves the label of Neurosis despite the minor inconsistencies and general deflation inside of the EP, and overall it idles passively on what it is and what it demonstrates. However, “Sovereign” has some glimmers of unobtrusive brilliance on occasion, and scenes of sheer power shine into the band like a sun that never sets. "Sovereign" should not be a starting place for the herd of unexposed listeners, yet the EP still adds another interesting perspective into the world of Neurosis, and one most fans should definitely investigate.

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Not quite up to Neurosis's usual standard. - 72%

caspian, September 20th, 2006

In case you didn't know, Neurosis are one of the most ambitious, intelligent and experimental metal bands around. Their deep, unnerving mix of sludge, folk, noise and hardcore sounds like no other band around, and much of their 90's output was about a decade ahead of its time, creating interesting prog sludge stuff when other prog-sludge bands weren't even born.

Like Times of Grace, this album treads the line between their 90's stuff and their latest two albums, but it's a bit closer to A Sun that Never Set's Minimalism then Times of Grace's heaviness. Prayer starts off pretty quietly, and for those who have A Sun.. will notice that it's extremely similar to From Where its Roots Run. A clean, haunting guitar line kicks this track off, before the song goes into Roots Run.. territory. It's by no means a bad song, but this is Neurosis.. you expect a great song! The climax is somewhat disappointing- in the end, the song doesn't really to go anywhere.

That's basically the main complaint about this album.. THe songs aren't terrible, indeed they're all quite good, but they don't seem to be fully completed. To me though, that is a valid, and major complaint. An Offering is probably the heaviest thing Neurosis have done since Raze the Stray, and Flood is a pretty cool Interlude, but the first three tracks don't seem to have any sort of release in them. They build up, they end; there's no catharsis. Chances are, the crazy folks in Neurosis did this deliberately, regardless, it's still a fairly annoying way to end songs.

Sovereign, however is a pretty cool song. It's not the most accessible song ever, but it still rocks. It follows a very Post-rock structure (quiet, loud, quieter, SUPER LOUD!!1) and it works quite effectively. Guitars drone away in the background, noise elements come in while the drumming builds up, there's some awesome dual vocal action with big riffing, this continues for a while until the ten minute mark comes, when clean vocals and an ominous piano line plays in the background. There's another final build before an awesome, nice, heavy and melancholic ending comes on, with some good use of synths and the typical big Neurosis riffs. It's a bit too brief, but it's still a good song.

Basically, all the Neurosis elements are here in this EP. It's crushing, fairly well produced, we have the great rythym section and the super passionate screamed vocals we've all come to know and love. However, the first three songs really don't have that much of a climax, and perhaps should've been worked on more. REgardless, those songs, and the album itself, are good listens, though chances are you won't feel satisfied when it's done.