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Nailed To The Crossroads - 95%

dystopia4, May 20th, 2016

Times of Grace is Neurosis’s Khrushchev to Through Silver in Blood’s Stalin. The brutality had reached an oppressive high on Through Silver in Blood and the only logical place to go from there is to bring in a gradual thaw. Don’t be mistaken, Times of Grace is still a damn heavy album, it’s just nowhere as heavy as Silver and has much more room for the light to breach the darkness. This transition reminds me a lot of Swan’s Children of God in that the band had already reached their high-water mark for what they could do with the darkness turned up to 11 and while still a damn heavy and dark record, did have quite a bit of room for more beautiful sections (especially with Jarboe’s vocals) and even something vaguely resembling traditional song structures. Times of Grace is much the same, the song structures, while still quite out there, come across as more structured and some of the quitter sections are downright gorgeous.

For the longest time Times of Grace was just that one Neurosis album that never really clicked with me. “Belief” was one of the songs that got me into the band, but on the whole it just didn’t strike me as being as interesting as their other albums. I think a lot of this has to do with the fact that it’s such a transitional record. I can hear a choir of fanboys now shrieking “no you dumbass, all Neurosis albums are transition albums”. While all Neurosis albums are transitional in that they were never interested in making the same album twice, this one in particular serves as the link between the two big eras of their sound. With Silver they brought their tribal crusty sludgefest to its logical extreme and with A Sun That Never Sets they began the largely mellower (although Given to the Rising is about as heavy as anything they’ve done), less chaotic and less crusty era of their sound. Times of Grace features heavy doses of both, with the crust element still remaining, many riffs that still feel like a prehistoric beast writhing in a pit of tar and with Dave Edwardson providing his final vocal offerings on a Neurosis album. However, there’s a lot here that showcases a completely lighter element of their sound.

Since Souls at Zero (and even Word as Law to some extent) Neurosis has been a balancing act, with sounds you usually wouldn’t hear on a metal or crust album balancing out the heavier shit. However, here it is mellower and more built into the core of the songwriting. While I wouldn’t call this album a mix of post-rock and sludge, there is definitely an influence from bands such as Godspeed You! Black Emperor here. The bass plays a huge role in these sections, and a lot of it reminds me of post-punk. The mellower song “Belief” shows some of what to come and to some extent seems like their take on early post-punk and classic gothic rock. There are definitely some melancholy autumn vibes here, absolutely beautiful, but in a pensive and bittersweet sort of way. The album closer “The Road to Sovereignty” is surprisingly uplifting in its second half and seems like a more keyboard-based sequel to “Empty”, Souls at Zero’s final track. The inclusion of additional instrumentation once again works out brilliantly for these guys. The strings on here are fantastic and there are even sections with tuba and trombone.

As for the heavier material on this album, Neurosis still had no qualms about bludgeoning listeners with massive riffs. While the first main riff to “Doorway” is pretty badass, the second doomier one is one of the heaviest and most memorable they have ever mustered. It is simultaneously menacing and catchy, setting the bar extremely high very early in the record. While there are big and chaotic riffs, much of the rhythm guitar work is made up of dissonant chords. There are still remnants of Silver’s industrialisms and this complements them wonderfully. Their harsh vocals are still crusty and raw, but not quite to the degree they had been. This is especially the case with Dave Edwardson, although his vocals are still really unique and twisted. Clean vocals are more prominent than they have ever been (just check out the first half of “Away”) and they really help change the dynamic of the band. The drumming here is particularly interesting. Jason still does some awesome tribal stuff, and on parts like the opening to “Under the Surface” there are multiple people jamming along with him on floor toms. But what’s really cool is he shows that he is also a master of more orthodox drumming, “Belief” remains one of his finest moments and he really shines with his intricate cymbal-work in the mellower sections.

Times of Grace marks the first album in many done in collaboration with prominent producer Steve Albini. This was a very wise choice for the band, as this is easily their best production yet. Everything has a very organic tone, the band records live (with some overdubs of course) and it feels like you are in the room with them. Noah’s keyboards are captured particularly well, and they give the album an ethereal vaguely Eastern-tinged atmosphere. Lyrically, this just might be my favourite Neurosis album. There’s a sense of violence and redemption that reminds me of old Cormac McCarthy novels. The lyrics are some of their most accessible (this is by Neurosis standards, remember) and they drip of metaphors for life’s trials and tribulations.

Times of Grace is Neurosis’s great thaw. While still creating monolithic slabs of crushing sludge, there is a lot more room for expansive clean sections to become further integrated into the sound. While this is very much a transitional record, there is none of the awkward growing pains of Word as Law. This stands as a colossal statement in its own right. This really is the best of both worlds, dripping with beautiful atmosphere and oozing with ground shattering heaviness. Having pushed into the deepest corners of the darkness, here they take a small step into the light.