The members of Neurosis spent the past seven years diluting their trademark trance-metal bombast in a cerebral, watery morass — if the gargantuan riff that opens Given to the Rising were on either of the band’s last two albums, it would occur only after five minutes of keyboard swirls and patience-trying guitar ambience. But the legendary Oakland sextet gets right down to business on its tenth studio album, hurling down righteous metallic hellfire before we’ve even had a chance to unfold the liner notes.
That directness signals a new M.O. for Neurosis. Less a radical redefinition of the band’s sound than a reminder of what made it great in the first place, Given to the Rising soaks up the Neurosis aesthetic so fully that it sounds remarkably tight for a seventy-minute album. The pervasive grim mood expresses itself so boldly and in so many different ways that the ambient sections of “At the End of the Road” and “Hidden Faces” sound just as vital as the carnage they precede. Guitars and keyboard effects heave and sway like some creaky barge on “Fear and Sickness,” rooted in the uneasy dread that Steve von Till is talking about when he croaks “Inscribe your fears in the soil/ The sea is foul.”
The eyes-closed, slow-motion crunch of “Water Is Not Enough” isn’t revolutionary any more, now that bands like Isis, Pelican and Cult of Luna have built entire subgenres out of that screaming-into-the-howling-wind-at-the-top-of-a-mountain sound that Neurosis introduced more than a decade ago. But if the song’s two monumental riffs aren’t groundbreaking, they are earth-shattering. Given to the Rising is far more dreadful and convincing than anything that Neurosis or its followers have released in recent years. For Neurosis, the album is more-than-adequate penance for the flabbiness of its last few. For everyone else, Given to the Rising is a master class in how it’s done, a challenge to any of the imitators that thought they could usurp Neurosis’s spot atop the apocalyptic sludge throne. Ain’t gonna happen.