You know that bullshit about Eskimos having 100 different words for snow? You’d need more than 100 ‘heavy’ synonyms to get to the black heart of a Neurosis gig. Thesaurus.com won’t cut it. ‘Filth’ needs a side entry too, there’s some stench off their riffs. Before this long-awaited show, a few gig posters are sellotaped outside the Button Factory, surrounded by about 50 bin bags full of rubbish. It somehow looks right.
It’s 15 years since I last saw Neurosis, in a double headliner with Swedish death metallers Entombed that blew the plaster off the walls of the Limelight in Belfast. It was just after the release of their landmark album Through Silver In Blood, a cauldron of brown-note riffs, ghosts in the machine electronics and sonic boom drums that’s still a metal hall-of-famer. It’s always ticked the boxes as a game-changer – metal slowed to a crawl that’s as much in thrall to the Melvins and Swans as Black Sabbath. It’s also the arbitrary point where the dreaded ‘post’ comes into the equation, with its atmospherics and prog leanings an obvious influence on so-called post-metal bands like Isis, Cult of Luna and Mastodon.
So they’re carrying the weight of expectation, with forums leading up to the gig full of fans who hadn’t seen Neurosis since the ’90s. No worries – a Neurosis gig in 2011 is a rote lesson in ‘giving them what they want’, without any of the heavy metal histrionics or conventional platitudes. The set spans two decades worth of fans’ cult favourites, but joint frontmen Scott Kelly and Steve Von Till don’t lift their heads long enough to get a “hello Dublin” in.
Opening with LocustStar from Through Silver…, they drill through nine or 10 songs, with snaking riffs and tit-for-tat caustic howls from Kelly and Von Till. With each track weighing in at around 10 minutes, there’s enough light and shade to suggest passages or chapters, weaved into organ drones and abstract ambience from Noah Landis, attacking his synth rig with two-fisted hammer blows. The hypnotic flicker visuals are another hook to hang on to – with grainy monochrome footage of a hawk in a vertical descent, a lone wolf, napalmed fields, flowers blooming in time lapse among the most arresting images. It’s the perfect complement to the towering infernos of End of the Harvest and Distill, or the sludgy Sabbath-meets-Godflesh on Given to the Rising.
Even with the visuals, it’s hard to take your eyes off Von Till, with veins the size of shoelaces bulging out of his shaved head, walloping the drum kit with his guitar and sticks while steam rises off his shoulders. He’s also supporting local talent too. He added guitar to Dublin hip-hop crew Melodica Deathship’s debut album from last year, and he’s sporting their Black Sabbath parody t-shirt. It’s not about who’s taking centre stage though, those riffs have a life of their own. As Neurosis stoke the furnace for the 15-minute Through Silver In Blood to climax, it’s rammed home in a squall of breezeblock beats, feedback and dissonant electronic ear-worms that sounds like the death throes of R2D2. And all on a Monday too – good luck, rest of the week.