Neurosis, Red Sparowes
at the El Rey, January 3
To the uninitiated, the ambient instru-metal sound of the opening act, Red Sparowes, is not dissimilar from Mogwai’s 2001: A Space Odyssey–meets–Conan vibe or Godspeed’s sonic cathedrals. However, with an affinity for pedal steel, shakers, countrified chords and galloping, polyrhythmic bass lines, the Sparowes sidestep lazy comparisons by cleverly steering the music toward “spaghetti Western–meets–imminent doom” territory. Though tonight’s set traded primarily in cinematic builds and romantic, blustery charges, the band’s closing feedback squall was the most riveting moment of their performance, both in its ability to assert the arc of their aesthetic and to wordlessly pay tribute to the night’s headliner. If ever a crowd could love the turgid, hypnotizing drama of a heaving ball of noise, it was this one.
As for Neurosis, well . . . in the dark, fractured DIY underground, the band is widely regarded as the Godfather of today’s post-metal genre. Having written the book on sludge (along with the Melvins) by slowing down chord progressions and opening metal to more ambient textures, they unwittingly paved the way for labels like Southern Lord and Hydrahead to nurture the prog and drone explorations of bands such as Isis and Sunn O))). For nearly 20 years now, Neurosis have been legendary for turning small, confined spaces into spiritually and psychologically transformative events. I skeptically thought El Rey’s expansive, chandeliered and climate-controlled setting would engulf, rather than enlarge, the band’s unique aural and visual onslaught. Happily, I was wrong.
The horrific film collages (provided by Red Sparowes guitarist/longtime Neurosis visuals guru Josh Graham) still have the effect of sedating the audience — entrancing us with a sheer blitz of skulls, self-immolation and water torture flashing onscreen. But it is a measure of sedation that is welcome when Neurosis unleash their avalanche of volume, guttural vocals and repetitive minor chords, while taped voices occasionally coo, “Recognize this as your nature. Abandon fear . . . your mind is as vast as the universe . . . rest in this . . . there is no light without darkness . . . body, mind and soul is what unifies . . . the soul knows I am capable of evil . . .”
It was harsh, but damn good. Metal is generally the domain of boys talkin’ ’bout sex and dragons. Rarely does it address our truest nature or speak with such singularity on matters that universally affect us all. Neurosis’ music and dystopian vision have only become more potent and prescient with age.