Neurosis at Koko, London

Support: Earth
November 7, 2016 at Koko, London
Promoter: CMH Live

The first thing I should say in this review is that I was initially down to review Earth’s headline show in Birmingham the following night, but due to work stuff I ended up having to be in London for the week so switched to this show. These dull facts I mention only so as to explain why I’m describing the Earth set as someone familiar with their work, but talking about Neurosis from the point of view of undecided potential initiate.

Walking down through Camden, where Inquisition and Rotting Christ were playing tonight, you can test the precise distinctions of underground metal insignia… there are Watain back patches heading to both shows, but more combat boots heading to Underworld, more hoodies for Koko. Inside the latter, this stupid fabulous inside-out giant wedding cake of a theatre, the extra-large human is well catered for at the Earth merch table, though fewer shirts on sale for the rest of us… hopefully the sign of a successful tour up until now! Neurosis, meanwhile, seem to have approximately 743 different shirt designs available (one for each of the venue’s numerous balconies perhaps?) with many more already on show in the crowd.

‘Torn by the Fox of the Crescent Moon’ is Earth’s opener, this track’s satisfying chug of Earth’s signature ‘Slayer 800% Slower!!!!!!!!!!!’ echoing as one of the stand-out components of last year’s return-to-rock-power album Primitive & Deadly. The vocalists on that record created some valid intrigue when the record came out, but here any hint of voice is discarded like so much superfluous decoration, glorious loudness filling the massive room.

The start of ‘Bees Made Honey’, prompted by Davies rattling a rag of bells or bones across the kit, seems at first almost an undead composite of bits that fell off the back of other songs: skrsshing feedback, throwaway twiddles, and the ever-present distortion groans. But then the main riff comes through, revelling in its own plodding relentlessness, certain like an old temple in its own foundations. It lurches through seventeen false endings, finally grounded or beached in shivering, lumbering resonance. Then ‘Rooks Across the Gate’ appears, its slopes and slow falls drawn from some death valley sand dune. And as in that desert landscape, here the dark sky is sometimes split by a lightning rock explosion. The end of the track melts into its own rhythm, straggled across a road well worn, knowing where its footfalls need to land. A new song is presented, created for the band’s recent live soundtracking of the film Belladonna of Sadness. The riff is based around a suspension cable drone, each cycle hung off of it, low and then lower but returning up to the tone, like creepers drooping from some Indiana Jones rope bridge across a canyon, or mossy steps down into a forgotten forest well. ‘Even Hell has its Heroes’ has some freedom amongst the solidity of the timings, embellished with searing notes and divebombing crashes into distortion pools.

Adrienne Davis plays like a strange belimbed sea creature, all slow arms as if drumming underwater, seaweed-bedraggled, resisted by dense water but impeccably, unfalteringly keeping deep time. It’s mesmerising to watch, those unstoppable circle arm movements signalling the unswervingly inevitable beat to come. Carlson takes the centre stage in style, the neck of his guitar rarely less than 60 degrees from the horizontal and often nestled on his leg pointing straight up. He throws the horns at the audience a couple times, and the guitar seems to even more seek to escape skywards up to that massive glitterball planet in the roof. Finally, Carlson calls out the last title, ‘High Command’ from Pentastar. It’s a twining circle of a riff, a rusting screw or spring rolling across a wooden floor, a hissing, writhing, spitting, darting, swaying, hypnotising hunting snake of a line that marshals its attacks to powerful but somehow devious effect.

Now time for Neurosis… the first weird synthy cowbell hit gets a cheer of recognition, and we’re soon up into a pummelling roar of noise with that original sound still keeping inhuman time. Scott Kelly and Steve Von Till are ready to leap in with the impeccably timed lights-flash, and immediately it’s a scorching, chemical scouring of your mind’s ear: riffs to descale your kettle as well as your soul.

The continuing of Noah Landis’ keypad noise strangeness between each track holds energy that might otherwise dissipate in applause and wandering-off; sustaining if not the brutality then at least the ominous uneasy tension. So it becomes a constant flip, the pierced ambient abstract shapes preparing for and heightening the impact of smashing blasts of industrially hardened metal. For a brief moment there’s an almost folksy sadness, a slow droning lament with heavy rhythm, which lapses in eventual exhaustion into the tides of pulsing riffs once more. Ever louder and more intense corrugated sheets of blasting rockface are thrown at the audience, the band surely getting louder as we trek through the 1hr 45min set. Jason Roeder’s spectacularly controlled polyrhythms and fills spray not only percussive smashes across the sonic space, but also weird reflections of light from his cymbals.

Near me hoods go up, palms down and stretched out hands, touching the extremities of noise air vibration. Up here a grim-faced resolute solemnity reigns, though way down on the floor it’s a roiling commotion. A guy clinging to the railings in one of the topmost balconies, briefly silhouetted in red flame lights, smashes his chest forwards, pushing up with his feet, hands gripping the railings, as if he’s repeatedly, compulsively inclined to hurl himself into the abyss, down three storeys of raging noise into the writhing pit below, to be swallowed up by chaos itself. I might not go that far quite yet, but the power of Neurosis is an undeniable fact witnessed by all here tonight.

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