There are plenty of bands who never achieve greatness – they excel on record but cannot reproduce it live or they deliver a killer gig but fall flat on record, which would explain why those who can truly do both are revered and stand head and shoulders above the crowd. Being twice the age of your average Slipknot fan I’ve been to enough gigs to have witnessed all points on the spectrum, I’ve seen the good, walked away from the bad and retold stories to others who have listened with thinly disguised jealousy about shows I have seen… this CD and grainy internet footage is as close as I have come to seeing Oakland’s heaviest sons and my barely concealed envy is only sated by the quality on display here.
Released to coincide with the 25th anniversary of the band, their first official live outing comes in the form of their 2007 headlining gig at Holland’s annual Roadburn festival, a gig widely talked about in reverent tones with the band offering up nearly 80 minutes of music drawing from the later albums Given To The Rising, The Eye Of Every Storm, Times Of Grace and A Sun That Never Sets, short of being there this is the best you are going to get.
The set starts with the sound of jet engines and free from the distractions of the (admittedly complimentary and usually stunning) stage display you are faced with little option but to surrender completely to the audio experience. The crowd surges and the dense riff to Given To The Rising crashes in with it’s monstrous, swirling, discordant darkness before it breaking into a wafting symphonic moment of ecstasy. The song lurches back and forth, being stretched this way and that, wrestling with and guided by harsh harmonics and tormented vocals.
Those familiar with both Neurosis and the material played here won’t find many surprises, after all it has been a long time and many, er, indebted artists since the behemoth that is Souls At Zero burst from the speakers but the execution of music this emotionally wrought and challenging is essential to deliver its impact properly.
A ripple of applause seamlessly ushers in Burn, it’s ringing, stripped down verses giving way to dizzying moments of jamming and stark spoken word. In this setting the material is allowed to breathe and grow organically. The band does not rush anything, the ebb and flow of A Season In The Sky positively crawls out of the speakers dripping with emotion that lends gravity to lyrics like “A hook in my back and a light to guide me” as they slowly tighten the screw until the weight is almost crushing. It is a sure sign of a great live act that they can do this almost without thinking and blessed with a back catalogue as rich as theirs, Neurosis have half the work done for them already.
Given the experimental scope of the set – doom and hardcore rubbing shoulders with folk and ambient sounds means the crowd doesn’t seethe with adolescent excitement, like say when Aces High kicks in on Iron Maiden’s Live After Death, but it roars with a primal acknowledgement and tension that tingles as the feedback so loud it makes you flinch when the unsettling and demanding At The End Of The Road elbows it’s way into your consciousness.
Distill is clearly a centre piece in all this, a complete wall of sensory overload, blending beautifully clean picked melodies and samples with massive tribal drum tattoos and gravel scrapped howls but the set is not all probing and testing as Water Is Not Enough ushers in the latter section of the disc, riding on a taut and comparatively straight forward pounding bass. At this point it’s almost a relief to give the intense experience a break and just bang your head in appreciation.
By the time the squealing feedback becomes Left To Wonder they are on the home straight building and building until The Doorway crashes through in a final monolithic work out that leaves the listener exhausted and more than a little shell shocked – image if this was accompanied by the visuals…
Granted their set lists will no longer please everyone, the more folksy leanings of this one will leave fans of Through Silver In Blood and Enemy Of The Sun gagging for more straight forward brutality and as all tracks head towards an epic length this is no casual listen (not that any Neurosis album is). What it is however, is the soundtrack to an apocalyptic triumph – The real thing must have been quite something to behold.
Scribed by: Mark Hunt-Bryden