In 1963, the Beatles drove their fans to tears. Everyone’s seen the footage: the screaming women with tear-streaked faces, shaking and dancing like giant, confused toddlers. Still, today, it’s hard to tell if their happiness is blissful hysteria or a manifestation of some deep, unconfronted issue.
Happy or sad, it is an effect that few bands in rock ‘n’ roll history have had on audiences — to truly and profoundly move fans with their music. But it’s a power that a very serious, very loud band called Neurosis has had on its global fanship since its earliest days in the DIY hardcore punk scene of San Francisco. Over the past 27 years, the band’s sound, approach and aesthetic has rarely been matched as it has evolved from punk into something much more cerebral.
Often grave, as if its members — Scott Kelly, Steve Von Till, Dave Edwardson, Noah Landis, Jason Roeder and Josh Graham — are playing and singing for life or death, the band’s style has had a measurable impact on the extreme end of rock music. And this week Neurosis celebrates a major milestone with the release of Honor Found in Decay, the band’s 10th album (self-released on its own North Idaho label, Neurot Recordings).
Staying close to its DIY roots has helped preserved the band’s spirit, but there is no single secret to the band’s success, singer/guitarist Steve Von Till says. “Very early on, we recognized there was something deep and important in our music. Even in our primitive punk expressions, there were whispers of something much greater than we were capable of understanding,” he says. “But the gut feeling was there.”
That’s what drove them, even as the band — controversially — left many punk fans behind as it shifted toward more atmospheric, experimental sounds, like on 1992’s Souls at Zero. Suddenly Neurosis wasn’t as easy to understand. The music wasn’t surface level. Instead, the band attempted to speak to something deeper.
And within the band, Von Till says, a commitment was made: This wasn’t simply music they were making, but a collective journey to venture into the deepest, darkest parts of their souls. Together.
“This is how we express ourselves, how we make sense of the world, and find something real, something deep, something intense that moves us emotionally and is truly original, truly our own,” he says.
That intense quest for something real has manifested itself over the years in the band’s mastery of loud-quiet-loud song structures, in the tribal drums that open and close “Through Silver In Blood,” the projections that flicker behind the band during its live shows and as the thick, intermingling walls of harmony and distortion on the band’s latest record.
“I see our musical evolution as spiraling ever closer toward a center that is the inspiration and driving force of Neurosis,” Von Till says. “The only cerebral and premeditated aspect to our music is the acknowledgement that we must move beyond the past, push the envelope and constantly outdo our previous efforts in some way. We use our age, experience and strengths to lead us to new sonic territory.”
And though Honor Found in Decay certainly sounds like something coming from Neurosis, it’s far from a repeat of the past. Songs open up to make space for thought and reflection — like on the third track, “My Heart For Deliverance,” a song that builds and builds until it breaks through the thick into something peaceful and pristine, like a lone traveler emerging from a dark forest to find a sunrise on the other side.
“We have discovered new ways to bring heaviness to our sound, new ways to integrate harmony, dissonance, melody and distortion, new ways to contrast the light and the dark, weaving them into something new for us,” Von Till says. “Experience has also brought us a greater sense of space within the music. Letting the music breathe allows the impact of the riffs to be that much heavier.”
And the effect that those sounds have had — not just on themselves — is something that drives the band further to keep searching. For new sounds. For new answers.
“It remains vital and inspired to us because we never look back and repeat the past,” Von Till says. “We have learned more and more over the years to get out of the head and deeper into the heart and soul.
“This is our soul music.”
Honor Found in Decay releases on Tue, Oct. 30. Visit neurotrecordings.com.