Tuesday 15 November 2016

LIVE REVIEW: "Celebrating 30 Years" Neurosis @ Koko - London, 7th November 2016

By: Richard Lennon


I’m a bit obsessed with Neurosis. I was given the “Souls at Zero/Enemy of the Sun” bundled digipack on release about 20 years ago (by my Gran, of all people) and have been  a fan ever since. In all that time I’ve never managed to catch them live, so when they announced two shows at Koko to celebrate 30 years as a band - supported by instrumental US drone-mongers Earth on the Monday night and British anarcho-punks Subhumans and Discharge on the Tuesday - I snapped up tickets immediately and have spent the last few months salivating in excitement.

Having initially bought tickets for the Tuesday show I was pretty disappointed when work got in the way and I had to switch to going on the Monday night – I’ve been a Discharge fan for yonks but had never really listened to Earth past a cursory spin of “The Bees Made Honey In The Lions Skull” which left me a bit unsure what all the fuss was about. Turns out I was wrong.

After a few pints over the road, we arrived a couple of minutes before Earth came on and just had time for a run to the merch stand and the bar before Dylan Carlson and co wandered onto the stage of Koko. Their set was hypnotic ally brilliant, as Carlson - backed by Adrienne Davies on drums and a baritone guitarist whose name I’m not sure of – ground out a succession of long, mesmerising instrumental pieces full of ultra-slow, head-nodding grooves and bluesy guitar riffs that were big, slow and heavy enough to have been written by dinosaurs. Music I’d found difficult to pay attention to on record was suddenly all-encompassing and completely gripping. I’m sure a proper fan could give you a much more thorough review, but I’ll just say that I was grinning from ear to ear by the end of the set and leave it at that.

And so, having been thoroughly re-educated about Earth, it was time for one of the most influential acts in modern heavy music to unleash the apocalypse on Camden. What followed wasn’t quite what I was expecting. In an interview with Overblown in the run-up to these shows, Steve Von Till mentioned that Neurosis [wanted] to celebrate our 30th anniversary by going back in the catalogue, trying to find some songs that would work, and trying to acknowledge each phase of our band and that comment had me excited about the possibility of them raiding “Souls at Zero”, “Enemy of the Sun”, “Through Silver in Blood” and “Times of Grace”, in turn bringing out a crowd-pleasing set of classics. In the end the set list leans much more heavily on recent albums than I was hoping. “Lost”, from “Enemy of the Sun”, gets a huge cheer from the crowd about halfway through and they close with the incomparable “Locust Star”, which is one of my all-time favourite songs by any artist, but the rest of the ten-song set is drawn from their last four albums, including three of the five tracks on new release “Fires Within Fires.” 

But if that sounds like a complaint, it isn’t. Neurosis are majestic. They don’t chat. The visuals are long gone. What we get is visceral, intense, totally alive heavy music, and the fact that I don’t know the new stuff that well doesn’t get in the way at all. There aren’t many bands who can take music that didn’t really set the world on fire for you on record and make it feel like a vital listening experience live, but Neurosis does precisely that. They pound out almost two hours of non-stop riffage, load it with waves of electronica from Noah Landis's sample/keyboard/theremin station on the side of the stage and offer more dynamics and subtlety in ten songs than many modern metal acts manage in an entire career. 30 years of making music hasn't slowed the juggernaut of sludge that is Neurosis down one iota and on this form you wouldn't bet against seeing the 40th anniversary shows come around. Maybe they'll finally cave in and play the greatest hits set in 2026.


1). Stones from the Sky
2). Given to the Rising
3). Bending Light
4). Lost
5). Broken Ground
6). Casting of the Ages
7). Fire is the End Lesson
8). Distill (Watching The Swarm)
9). At the Well
10). Locust Star