Legendary sludge metal outfit and pioneers of post-metal Neurosis return after four years of silence to drop their eleventh album Fires Within Fires.
Neurosis is a seminal progressive sludge and doom quintet from the united states that played a pivotal role in pioneering the post-metal sound in the 90s with albums such as Souls at Zero, Through Silver in Blood and Times of Grace, records that would in turn influence and inspire bands like Isis and Pelican, which would go on to become the main actors in the post-metal genre during the 2000s.
In their more than three decades long career, Neurosis have built an impressive and well regarded catalog starting as a hardcore band in the mid-80s before adding sludge, doom and even industrial elements to their sound on their 1992 classic Souls at Zero. Neurosis’ sound continued to evolve as the band released the aforementioned Through Silver in Blood and Times of Grace in the 90s and A Sun that Never Sets going into the 2000s. By that time the band’s music was a well-rounded mix of tribalistic and atmospheric sludge metal with doom and post-rock elements weaved into the mix. Neurosis further continued to release albums that were very well received almost universally, putting out The Eye of Every Storm and Given to the Rising in the mid to late 2000s before slowing down and going on bit of a break before releasing Honor Found in Decay in 2012, 5 years after their previous album. The band proved that they still had it in them, but Honor Found in Decay didn’t quite reach the impact of any of their previous releases. It was a solid Neurosis album that didn’t really explore their sound any further or expand on it in any meaningful ways.
Now, 4 years after the release of Honor Found in Decay, Neurosis are at it again and made their return with Fires Within Fires. This album is a rather short release for Neurosis, clocking in at about 40 minutes as opposed to the quite expansive albums exceeding the one hour mark that can frequently be found in their discography.
The album starts off on a throwback sound on Bending Light, with synthesizers and minimalistic guitars weaving a Times of Grace atmosphere that switch to gentle post-rock chords before the song explosively picks up around the halfway point. The almost hypnotic sludge section continues on into the last quarter where it slowly dissipates and brings the song to a close. A Shadow Memory continues down a similar path and brings back some of the keyboards previously heard on albums such as Given to the Rising whereas the song after that, Fire is the End Lesson, awaits with a sound reminiscent of A Sun that Never Sets-era Neurosis.
Broken Ground is the first track on this album to break with the atmosphere set up by the previous tracks starting off with reverbed, distant guitars in the back and some bluesy guitar chords in the front, accompanying gentle vocals by Steve von Till. The album closer, Reach, features some layered vocals along the kind of dusty, nostalgic atmosphere that can frequently be found in Neurosis’ music and mostly sticks to a quieter sound with some underlying tension that breaks out in the last section of the track.
Somewhere during the last track was when it became a little bit hard for me to keep listening to Fires Within Fires on my first listen. The mostly not exactly novel sound of this record hardly left an impression on me even after multiple listens and I cannot help but feel like Neurosis wrote more impactful and memorable versions of some of these tracks before. This feeling is reinforced by the fact that Neurosis’ means to weave an atmosphere on this album can already be found on previous releases, only that they were supported by additional instruments in the past and had a rougher, grittier sound to them.
Fires Within Fires could be described as Neurosis in its essence but it’s lacking some of the memorable features that made it stand out in the past. This album is a reasonably enjoyable listen presenting the very core of Neurosis’ music but many of their previous releases just feature a more impactful version of that sound and manage to keep it fresh and interesting with additional instrumentation and more diverse songwriting.
Overall, Fires Within Fires is a solid addition to the band’s catalog that unfortunately doesn’t manage to leave much a lasting impression in any way and cannot live up to some of the classics released by Neurosis in the past. If anything this album is closer to the equally solid but nevertheless similarly unremarkable Honor Found in Decay.