Steve Von Till‘s body of work is well documented; since replacing Chad Salter in Oakland hardcore masters Neurosis in 1989 he has helped shape not only the musical output and progression that saw the band change from their crust influenced leanings of ‘Pain of Mind’ but also the accompanying visual elements of their artwork, live visuals and the day to day running of their independent record label Neurot Recordings which not only releases music by co-conspirator Scott Kelly, but also himself, various side projects of the band and plenty of challenging artists, like U.S. Christmas and Nate Hall.
To say that Von Till’s impact on one of the most important bands of the past two decades has been sizeable doesn’t really scratch the surface of a man who also teaches elementary school to pay the bills. This re-issue of his debut solo album ‘As The Crow Flies’ sees one of the original Neurot Recording releases finally resurrected from it’s out of print state and has had new life breathed into it with CD, LP and digital formats coming almost 13 years on from the day it was originally unleashed on the world.
Having forged a reputation for being some of the deeper thinkers making music in the genre, Neurosis have often set about challenging concepts and ideas as much as they have channeled the use of sonic deliveries to further their artistry. It should come as no surprise that ‘As The Crow Flies’ is a similarly weighty affair with regards to spirituality and subject matter; this is a compendium of soulful, spiritual yearnings, a bleak and desolate wasteland at times that mournfully cries out to the listener.
Musically if his other day job is a super heavy crushing weight that pummels the listener into submission, then his solo work is almost the very antithesis in its subtlety. Drawing influence from old folk arrangements and delivered in a gentle, ambient and very organic style that sees violins, piano, tender guitar strumming and soft, almost spoken lyrics intoned in Von Till’s recognisable raspy vocal style.
Over the course of the seven tracks the tension and desire to explore beyond the realms of consciousness is at times suffocating despite the seeming contrast between this and the output of Neurosis, but it is clear that this is a spiritual journey keen to explore the depths of the human psyche.
As the man himself said recently in the press build up for Neurosis’ ‘Honor Found In Decay’, “When you learn to surrender to something bigger than yourself, you’re acknowledging the realm of spirit – and where else does music come from? I have no idea, but it feels like it’s not just deep in the core of us, but deep within the core of the Earth, the stars and everything else.”
The question for this reissue is how has the album stood the test of time? To be honest it has lasted reasonably well. The striped back, understated manner of the music renders it almost devoid of time – it could have been recorded yesterday or it could have been recorded fifty years ago for the difference technology has as an impact on ‘As The Crow Flies’. The musical content is a more contentious matter as it was at the time.
Did Von Till do enough to distance himself from the vision of Neurosis? Yes and no. This is a completely different affair sharing the vision of the same man so there are bound to be cross overs in similarity which cannot be avoided. However the simplicity and repetitive nature of some of the tunes may come as a disappointment given the challenging nature of recent releases like ‘Honor Found In Decay’, but the important factor to bare in mind is that this is not Neurosis, this is an entirely different journey with its own destination and at times it is as captivating and haunting as it was 13 years ago.
Scribed by: Mark Hunt-Bryden