Souls At Zero
Originally released: 1992 (on Alternative Tentacles)
Souls At Zero
Originally released: 2000
I’m in the midst of giving my head somewhat of a beat down.
To charge the heightened onslaught of progressive terror that Neurosis have manifested for the last 26 years is to offer oneself fully to it as an experience and not so much as a casual listen. This morning I was thinking about 1992 and what I’d been paying attention to when Souls At Zero had been first issued. Metal at that time, though I’d been exposed to much it before then, mostly evaded me, the only real exception being Pantera’s Vulgar Display Of Power. Ignition had been called on Metallica’s self-titled decline and Megadeth’s Countdown To Extinction was unfairly caught up in the Black Album’s downward trajectory. Otherwise, my head was invested in the Alternative awakening.
In 2000, when their Sovereign EP came out, I wasn’t listening to metal at all, caught up in some very stupid and regretful entanglement with all that nü shit that’s suffered greatly thanks to either evolving tastes or a public’s tendency to eschew trends. We all make mistakes. Some of us own up.
I realize, by the way, that the above admission withdraws much of my right to wax credibly on any and all statements I make regarding Neurosis and this year’s reissues, but consider my perspective unique. As I rapidly approach my mid-thirties and am typically ingesting a rather overwhelming heap of music daily, I’m past the point of being viscerally and emotionally consumed by anything musical anymore. A few of the better and most memorable days I spent in my otherwise anti-bliss as a teenager were in the throes of an album that I’d just bought, at times subject to something that made the hairs on the back of my neck shoot up and the blood in my veins coarse ice cold throughout my body. Something I had to listen to over and over again. Something that may have excited me; maybe even depressed me. I could feel my impressionable self being damaged, misshapen, worked as potter’s clay, my ears co-conspirator to my countless pubescent awakenings, the few I had that didn’t involve tits, ass and plans on how to acquire both.
Now? It’s not that I’m no longer genuinely affected by music. Were that true, I wouldn’t bother spending time spewing this shit, promoting bands, dissecting albums... What would be the point? But, albums don’t mean as much as they used to and, chances are, I will have the same top ten, twenty or fifty for the rest of my life. Subsequent albums? I like a lot of them, but few have seeped past my rather hardened and desensitized perceptions. I’m more likely to admire a band or an album than exhibit outright devotion.
It could be the age of these albums and when in my life they’d have hit me had I been more informed and maybe as open-minded and tapped into the alternative or counterculture well as I thought I was. Souls At Zero would’ve hit me at 15 or 16. Sovereign? 23 or 24. Both albums have caught me at a level I haven’t experienced in some time. I find myself sinking into them, emotionally invested. “To Crawl Under One’s Skin” and “Souls At Zero” both pull me under their weight, hammer me into absolute silence and distract me from all else in plain view. “Flight” is a rampant cycle of guitars and drums, suited up momentarily with violin strings and woodwind before revisiting its mire and “The Web” continues a fairly steady and almost struggling march through ample sonic mud. There’s no end to these limitless holes; no interruptions, missed spots or cracks in these walls. You’re enveloped. Contained. An exhalation of trumpet sounds bolster some majestic air around slow, churning chords in “Sterile Visions” and then “A Chronology Of Survival” builds itself into frenzied blasts of amplification before an ensemble of violin and cello bring the song to a close. “Stripped” is just a progressive and oddly mashed combination of sounds and tempos, doom-laden bells and emanations of a church dwelling choir, powerfully and abruptly collaged with seams in full view, frayed edges bore proud. Uneasy builds introduce every musical height, some more fully composed than others and then Takeahnase basically powers the album to a close, its only real addition a rather lonely instrumental dubbed “Empty.”
For the sake of full disclosure, it’s worth noting that Souls At Zero has been reissued with demo versions of “Souls At Zero” and the sample-scattered instrumental version “Zero.” “Cleanse III (Live In London)” expands on the ritualistic percussion and sample fascinations Neurosis began with “Cleanse,” which was put out in 1993 on Enemy of the Sun.
Sovereign was the maiden release for Neurosis’ Neurot Recordings label, and showcases the band in a looser manner, atmospherically patient. Somehow, though, with a less refined construct in place, Sovereign sounds manic, nervous and somewhat unpredictable. “Prayer” spends most of its time attempting to reach some momentous occasion where shit goes down, but it stays a course, never quite reaching any pinnacle moment or achieving a significant payoff. “An Offering,” though, works itself into accelerated rage, enriched in guitar drones. “Flood,” is a percussion-based instrumental and “Sovereign” just bleeds, its instruments viscously dripping in a series of overlaying notes before finding purpose. It’s another of those very sever moments in Neurosis’ catalog that occupies my attention, its resolve severe and its tone nothing to fuck with.
The reissue contains an instrumental called “Misgiven,” which is sort of a naked variation of “An Offering,” experimenting with layered high frequency strains of sound.
I’m positive that none of my observations regarding Neurosis are particularly new or really even necessary, (this band’s legacy writes itself), but as reissues hopefully grant new access to those of us wandering directionless in the midst of music that might otherwise greatly enhance our lives, such exposition can maybe lead some ears their way. I can say that Souls At Zero and Sovereign have at least widened my gaze some, embarrassing me to some extent in that I’ve come this far without Neurosis in my life. But, I guess the benefit is I get to enjoy them anew.
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