One of the more compelling storyline threads running through the music released in 2012 has been the re-assertion of power by long-established artists. Sure, the year has also seen fantastic next steps from other corners of the indie world, from bands that are proving to be career acts, to those who may have appeared on some “artists to watch” lists making good on their early potential. But take a moment to consider the 2012 albums from blazers such as Converge, Swans, and now Neurosis. All of these names have been part of the larger conversation for over 20 years, and all established their consistency credentials years ago. Since high quality is expected, it’s no longer acceptable for an album by an act like this to merely be good and still stand out. Honor Found In Decay is Neurosis’ tenth album. They’re not only still proficient in the lane of heavy music they helped pioneer, they’re somehow finding new ways to grow, new emotions to unearth, new sounds to conjure with giddy joy. It’s a triumph of human imagination. It stands out.
The seven songs on Honor Found In Decay run the gamut between grim trudges slathered with ominous peals of noise ("Casting Of The Ages"), strained howls at vast expanses ("At The Well"), and moments of sudden, unexpected beauty ("My Heart For Deliverance"). Overall, the album dwells in a contemplative, deliberate state, as opposed to the almost-constant roiling boil of their previous studio effort, 2007's Given To The Rising, with added influence from guitarists/vocalists Scott Kelly and Steve Von Till's respective, more roots-based solo work. This causes a tension in many of the tracks, which writhe in states of agitation like dogs on the ends of short leashes, only really allowed to truly vent on a few rare occasions, as on the ending of "Bleeding The Pigs," or the first half of "All Is Found...In Time." The albums seethes from small wounds as opposed to gushing from mortal ones.
True to its title, Honor Found In Decay seems to capture moments of vitality during times when continuation of life seems the most fleeting. The vicious riff that carries the last third of "Casting Of The Ages" supernovas until it's played exclusively by keyboardist Noah Landis, with Jason Roeder furiously pounding away at his drums as if such a thing could revive the sputtered-out guitars of Kelly and Von Till. The climax of "Bleeding The Pigs" only comes after several minutes of tribal drumming buildup, a desperate and exhilirating race to the finish. It's in the way Kelly locks into the final lyric of opener "We All Rage In Gold," stretching out the word "eye" for as long as physically possible, or how the melodic lead lines of "At The Well"'s ending mutate into a truly ugly, gnarled rope of noise.
All of the thematic and songwriting triumphs to be found here still don't manage to touch on how simply great Honor Found In Decay sounds. The album marks the fifth time Neurosis has worked with Steve Albini. His dry approach allows for Roeder's drums to boom, and the guitars of Von Till and Kelly to possess equal amounts of bite and heft. These are cathedral sized songs, recorded to get lost within.
The image adorning Honor Found In Decay's cover (created by in-house visual artist Josh Graham) depicts three spears rising triumphantly from a mound of dirt or ash. It's a fitting image for the band, which has now been active over the course of four different decades. Their voices and sound may be immeasurably more ragged and weathered, but if Neurosis' idea of "consistency" continues to include this kind of additional exploration at this point in their career, may their journey never end.