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To Wander The Wastelands - 99%

dystopia4, March 5th, 2016

If there is one thing to be said about Neurosis, it is that they’ll never be caught making the same album twice. While some may have thought they were headed down more of a prog route after the experimental masterpiece Souls at Zero, they churned out a massive sludgy tribal mindfuck just a year later with Enemy of the Sun. While they would never cease to evolve, Enemy of the Sun proved to be the raw template which they would use as a springboard to explore new sonic territory. For the monolithic Through Silver in Blood, they took what they created on Enemy and basically snuffed out all light. This album is pure devastation. It’s not an immediate blitzkrieg of all-out war, but rather the sonic equivalent of slowly dying of thirst in a post-apocalyptic wasteland. It’s a shame that music like this would be too alienating to use as soundtrack for movies, as it pretty much sums up the atmosphere of The Road.

Being an opaque clusterfuck of ideas is largely what gave Enemy of the Sun its charm, coming off like a stream of consciousness from the mind of a heroin addict. However, this is much more focused, and wholly focused in pushing the limits of brutality and emotional devastation in a way that hadn’t really been done before. Sludge had been kicking around for a little while before this, with it really taking off at the dawn of the ‘90s. But while groups like Eyehategod, Crowbar and The Melvins were digging into some pretty heavy stuff, that was a walk in the park compared to the sheer sonic massiveness of this. Swans’ early work, which predated Black Flag’s My War (the second half of that album basically being the definitive template which sludge was born out of), seemed to anticipate sludge and was some of the bleakest and most fucked up music around. I can hear the influence, and I would say this is the spiritual successor to works like Filth and Cop – bringing out the same primal impulse and raw vitriol in a way that further pushed the envelope of just how heavy, fucked up and devastating music on the slower side of the spectrum could be.

There are two elements here that are absolutely crucial in understanding why this is better than the previous album. Or two men, rather: Noah Landis and Billy Anderson. While Billy Anderson replaced Jello Biafra as Neurosis’s producer for Enemy, he has noticeably improved here. Not that the production was bad before, but it is absolutely massive here – I’d go as far as saying that this album couldn’t have been successful without it. Everything is as thick as tar, and sounds huge while still sounding rawer than a freshly slaughtered animal. Probably a big part of why this sounds so thick and big is because much of this is double tracked and the band has said that in some parts there were 16 fucking keyboard tracks going. Basically the modus operandi is to pummel with everything the band can throw at you. This is the first album to feature Noah Landis, creating the lineup that is still intact today. Plucked from the awesome East Bay hardcore band Christ on Parade, his work behind the keyboards really brings to life the crushing and suffocating atmosphere they are going for. While a handful of other Neurosis albums have industrial tinges here and there, Through Silver in Blood is the only one where it is integral to the sound. Much of this has to do with the bizarre dark and twisted keyboard effects. I, for one, can’t imagine the title track without that awesome industrial creaking sound. Like previous works, sampling plays a big part here. Not only in the inclusion of weird and unsettling sounds, but also harrowing spoken word bits, drawing heavily from experimental groups such as Throbbing Gristle.

Scott and Steve offer some pretty massive guitar here. Sure, there are riffs that bludgeon you over the head, but a lot of it is weird Voivodian swirling patterns or even the same chord or two pummeled into oblivion. The massive tone is really what allows this to work so well. There’s a lot of dissonance here, and very little melody to be found besides the occasional additional instrumentation. The bass slithers around like some ancient serpent, rumbling menacingly under the roar of the guitars. There are some particularly unsettling parts where the guitars drop out and the bass swirls frantically like an animal drowning in tar. The triple threat of the vocals is undeniably powerful here, with the two guitarists and bassist all adding a pretty unique voice. Scott and Steve both have pretty damn gravelly vocals, both drawing heavily from crust punk. Edward’s voice is a fucking spectacle to behold. He is used the least, making his inhuman bellows even more powerful when they do crawl up from the murk. Basically they are as demented a yell as possible without actually distorting the voice as done in most harsh vocals. Essentially, they are traditional hardcore vocals stretched to their logical extreme (probably past it, actually).

While all instruments are more than hauling their weight, the drumming here is absolutely batshit insane and an enormous part of what makes this album so memorable. Jason came into his own as a drummer on Souls, cemented his signature style on Enemy and gave the performance of a lifetime on Through Silver in Blood. That’s not to say he hasn’t progressed since, but never has the drumming gone as all out in Neurosis as it has here. While there is some interesting cymbal work on tracks like “Purify” and killer traditional drumming here and there, the tom-driven tribal patterns dominate and give this a sense of warlike intensity. If the rest of the album is wandering through a desolate desert wasteland, the drums are the lingering fear that you might be attacked by rabid scavengers at any moment. This kind of reminds me of Winter’s Into Darkness, not because the albums are necessarily similar (although there are certain parallels to be made), but because the albums would be awesome even with traditional drumming, but the unique and confrontational styles really gives them the edge they need to be absolute classics.

The main criticism I’ve heard of the album is basically that all of the songs don’t sound like “Locust Star”. To be fair, “Locust Star” is probably the best song on the album and easily one of the most memorable things Neurosis has ever done. A crusty rager, it condenses the songwriting into a much more accessible package. I mean, Edward’s “Will to Power” part at the end? Fucking forget about it. (Sidenote: check out the video of them performing this live at 1997 Ozzfest. It is hands down the most intense and powerful live video I’ve ever seen.) This starts a tradition of a more accessible song with easier to digest songwriting that would be continued in a few of their other albums – “Belief” and “A Sun that Never Sets” are two examples. I definitely think an album of “Locust Star”s would be pretty cool, but I do think Neurosis took the right approach here with the long, drawn out songs and more open-ended songwriting. Post-apocalyptic imagery aside, this is the soundtrack to being mentally drained and losing all hope. “Locust Star” is a hell of a lot of fun, but on the whole, this album is not meant to be fun. It’s meant to be draining, in a cathartic sort of way. The songwriting allows the brutality and sonic devastation to unfold in an organic way and become the main attraction rather than something giving the songwriting an extra edge.

While certainly one of the most dark and uncompromising albums I’ve heard, they don’t play at 11 for the album’s entire duration. This is a very good thing, as heavy music tends to sound heavier when there are lighter sections for them to be contrasted with. The lighter passages are definitely not light in spirit, though. These passages scream mental exhaustion and failure of the will. There are some gruff clean vocals here, which are pretty cool. There’s also some additional instrumentation, even further expanding the scope of the album. There are even some atmospheric bagpipes, which is pretty cool not to mention totally unexpected. The beautiful string/piano intro to “Aeon” offers a rare bittersweet glimmer of light through the darkness.

Through Silver in Blood is an unparalleled exercise in brutality and easily the heaviest sludge album out there. What most of these atmospheric sludge bands whose existence is only possible because of Neurosis forget is how damn heavy Neurosis could be. Who would have thought that three angry young men screaming at you over tom drums could amount to so much? Take crust punk, hardcore, doom, sludge, industrial and mix it in a tar-stained cauldron and you still would only be at the tip of the iceberg. I could try to pick apart influences all day, but at the end of the day that would be a rather futile endeavour as the whole point of Neurosis combining those influences into something unrecognizable. Bands of this caliber are well above just being a sum of their influences. Neurosis are truly trudging into new sonic territory here. This is the sort of primal shit that speaks to your lizard brain.