A five hundred mile round trip to Leeds on a work night is no small undertaking for a gig (not to mention the acquisition of requisite brownie points to leave my pregnant wife alone with our son), but such is the draw of Neurosis, a band tickling the highest heights of my “gigs-I-must-see-before-they-split-or-die” list but who seldom, if ever, play anything other than a one-off London show or a festival.
Every cubic millimetre of the Cockpit seems filled with red lights and smoke, as London based producer The Haxan Cloak takes to the stage for forty minutes of unnerving drone and bass-heavy electronica. Discordant string samples ebb and flow through unsettling cinematic arrangements, while the busy clatter of porcelain high hats drives each scene forward. The air pressure in the room shifts with the deep burr of each bass hit, physically engaging our bowels with the sound.
The Haxan Cloak played a load of stuff from his acclaimed Excavation album but there wasn’t anything to keep our interest visually. “Holy shit! Did you see that bit where the dude was standing completely still at his laptop?” Yet as the second movement of his set began, I was transported to a hellish, seemingly Lynch-inspired nightclub nightmare. I shut my eyes and let my mind wander with the terrifying soundtrack, chest cavity rattling and t-shirt billowing with sub-bass. Closing my eyes gave the added benefit of not having to endure the ridiculous strobe light on stage, that was giving my retinas a fucking kicking.
The polite applause The Haxan Cloak received at the end of his set implied that for most of the audience the dark electronic noodlings provided at best an atmospheric introduction for legendary sludge titans Neurosis, who stepped out into the suffocating humidity of a rammed venue. The near two hour set was well balanced, drawing predominantly from 2012’s Honour Found In Decay and 2002’s The Sun That Never Sets. The stuttering drum, bass and effects intro of the latter’s title track gave way to their trademark guitar tones – melodic yet thick with menace – underpinning Steve Von Til’s tuneful bellow.
Things took a decidedly nastier turn as the magnificent ‘Locust Star’ from 1996’s Through Silver In Blood followed, with Scott Kelly stepping out of the gloom, unleashing his venomous howls and anguished wails through the wall of sound. The whole band were totally committed to every downstroke; slabs of de-tuned distortion emanating from the stage. The emotional weight of every note is felt: impressive for a song that is nearly twenty years old.
Neurosis have nothing to prove; there is no smoke, flashing lights, projected visuals or on-stage banter. Instead, swirling atmospherics, thunderous drums and gargantuan riffs, seemingly oceanic in proportion, surge and crash around Kelly, as he unleashes pure hatred into the microphone; like some wild eyed captain of a storm-torn vessel gripping the remnants of a shattered mast, hurling abuse at the maelstrom for being a dick.
Heavy handed sea-faring metaphors aside – four songs in, the stifling heat had turned Scott Kelly’s t-shirt to something resembling slick Lycra. Despite this heat, ‘The Tide’ and ‘My Heart For Deliverance’ were an incredible one-two mid-set punch that left the hairs on the back of my neck bristling… or would have if not for the stream of sweat running from my neck to my clackers.
The pace picked up near the end for a vitriolic rendition of Times of Grace standout ‘The Doorway’; its lurching, off-kilter chugging descending into the crushing middle section of undeniable head-nod sludge. The set is finished off with the melodic, near uplifting (let’s not get carried away though) ‘Stones From The Sky’. The final riff builds, atmospherics and noise gradually rise into chaos, strings are literally ripped from their fretboards, guitars fall, and the band is gone.
Scribed By: Gareth Gordon