Across a 30-year career, post-metal titans Neurosis have been among the most influential bands in the consistent progression of heavy music. So why change the template?
Forming as a hardcore band in mid-80s Oakland, California, Neurosis would soon metamorphose into pioneers of doom.
With their 1992 release Souls at Zero the band created an album many cite as the starting point for the post-metal genre, though it was 1993’s Enemy of the Sun where they established their trademark blend of industrial soundscapes, deathly folk trip-outs and thrash roots. With 1996’s Through Silver and Blood and 1999’s Times of Grace Neurosis created their two seminal moments, and they’ve maintained a lofty status over four subsequent releases.
Their influence in post-metal spheres cannot be underestimated; the indelible mark Neurosis have left on kindred spirits Isis, the wider industrial experimentations of Justin Broadrick, and, more recently, the surging dynamics of last year’s revelation Deafheaven is enduringly evident. When we speak to vocalist/guitarist Scott Kelly, he’s quick to stress the role of tireless collaboration in allowing himself and his bandmates to fulfill their collective destiny. “We just had our heads down, grinding away. There’s never been a time for us to look up and see what we’ve done. We know the sum of our parts is greater than the five of us individually. There has always been more at work here than just us. We felt it from the very beginning.”
Kelly values nothing higher than the collaborative bond with his bandmates. He formed Neurosis in 1985 alongside Dave Edwardson and Jason Roeder, before adding stalwarts Steve Von Til and Noah Landis in 1989 and 1995 respectively. That classic line-up has remained in place since, and Kelly recognises it’s a rare and artistically valuable thing to keep a group together for that length of time. “We are in contact pretty much daily in one way or another. Having the band intact for this long has been a miracle and an incredible gift. It helps us in every way imaginable to have this eternal band of brothers. We are the family that we all dreamed of having one day – we created it with our own flesh and blood and it will stand forever.”
In 1990, the band invited visual artist Adam Kendall into the fold in an unprecedented role, projecting dark, often psychedelic backdrops to their live set. His place would later be taken by Pete Inc., then at the turn of the millennium, Josh Graham. “Our original intention was to bring a show into any club and completely transform it into our space,” Kelly explains. “It, in conjunction with the sound, would create a vortex. As time progressed, Adam left and was replaced by Pete Inc. He was with us when we toured around 250 days a year. Josh joined around 2000 and brought the visuals into the digital age, which at the time made all the sense in the world.”
However, upon the release of 2012’s Honor Found in Decay, Neurosis revealed that they would be amicably parting company with Graham and reinventing their live aesthetic, starting from point zero. In an age of constant inundation of image and information, Kelly and his cohorts felt live music should offer an antithesis. “By 2012 we had decided that we were completely done with visuals”, he tells us. “We felt that all we were doing was contributing one more screen for people to drone out on instead of being in the moment. We are totally enjoying the stark live experience we are bringing right now. We use a subtle light show and let the music do all the talking”.
As this live appropriation redevelops from its foetal state, Kelly confirms Neurosis will be starting work on new music this year, but “who knows where it will take us”. He’s also been busy contributing to an upcoming LP from the most critically acclaimed metal band of the last decade, Mastodon. Having already collaborated on four previous albums, that Kelly is continuously asked back is testament to his status. “I’ve always admired them for being the best guys out there”, he says. “They made a conscious decision to exist in the mainstream and I think they’re finding their way in it while still making vital and intelligent music. The new song is fucking great. It’s the best one yet. Well, it’s hard to fuck with (2009’s) Crack the Skye, but it’s right up there!”
Though relatively strong sales for Through Silver and Blood attracted Neurosis some attention from the mainstream earlier in their career, Scott is resolute that this brief flirtation with broader appeal was no more than that: a momentary distraction. “The mainstream flowed over our way for a minute, but we never jumped in. The water was too polluted to swim in. We never make conscious decisions towards the audience, we just do what we feel like doing in each moment as it goes. It’s a very selfish artistic path we are on.” Selfish in nature the path may be, but it’s won legions of avid followers, waiting patiently to witness Neurosis’s next emphatic step.
Finally, Scott enthuses about other bands on the bill for Temples, the Bristol festival which Neurosis headline next month. “I know Doom is playing – I want see them anytime I can. Wolfbrigade and Tombs as well. And, of course, Amenra and a Storm of Light. They’re our brother bands.”