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A Modest Offering - 80%

dystopia4, 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.