Photo courtesy of Earsplit PR
There are still plenty of people who want to make music their life. Even in the face of shitty Spotify payments, the dream of “making it” hasn't really waned. (As someone who wants to subsist on music writing, I can relate...) Most artists never find significant, if any, commercial success. Some bands, however, tap into something that persists longer, even if big paydays never come. In many ways, it's more honorable than the pop stars and lucky bar bands who blow up suddenly, only to fade into obscurity until the music media runs a story about them playing a nostalgia cruise or trying to convince the public their music can defeat ISIS
. Being a cult band is rewarding in some ways and, yes, frustrating in others. Most of these acts wouldn't have it any other way.
Oakland's Neurosis are one such band. They began as just another East Bay hardcore group (they even had a release on Lookout!), but slowed down their tempos, incorporated ritualistic drum sections, and went through hell to redefine metal for the modern age. They've had brief flirtations with the mainstream. They played the very first Ozzfest, for instance. Pantera gave them a supporting slot soon after the release of Through Silver in Blood
, their 1996 breakout. And let us never forget that time Mark wore an Enemy of the Sun
shirt on Home Improvement
. Tumblr actually won't let us forget.
Did cosigns—intentional or not—from the singer of one of America's metal bastions and a teen heatthrob push the band toward superstardom? No, but Neurosis have never been better.
If you've been to a Neurosis show, you know why they are a cult sensation. Other bands may have bigger backlines, and with some luck, bigger budgets. But Neurosis carry an emotional weight few can top, and they're throwing it all onto you for a little more than an hour. For a long time, they employed Josh Graham
on visuals, but once they dropped him, their confidence in their already huge sound solidified. It's no 30-minute, hit-it-and-quit-it affair peppered with [insert your least favorite stock rock show banter here]. The afterparty mostly consists of you sitting alone, trying to process it all.
With innovators, of course, come scores of hucksters who don't realize that organically stumbling upon a sound is how most revered bands earn their keep and legacy. Neurosis is no exception. Imitation will never be flattering—why do you think that Swans chose bands like Xiu Xiu and A Hawk and a Hacksaw, both of whom offer little sonic resemblance, to open for them? And Van Halen once had a lesser known Marley brother, Ky-Mani, open for them when plenty of cock rockers would have made crooked deals to do so. It's got to be frustrating when someone can copy your sound but not add anything, right? Punk was so much about “you can do this, too!” that the question of whether you actually should
Less of that blame falls on Neurosis than on Isis, Hydra Head
founder Aaron Turner's band from 1997–2010. When Isis began, they were heavily indebted to Neurosis' hypnotic pummel, but they began to incorporate post-rock influences, too. They brought Neurosis' sound to a fanbase one generation removed from Silver
. While that's honorable, they inspired plenty of bands who simply didn't get the source material. Most bands cursed as influences have sounds that may not take precise dissection to imitate, but they can be nearly impossible to nail because imitators miss that all-important element of personality. Sure, you can mix loud and quiet parts like a bearded Mogwai and throw in some “tribal” drums and some synths, but you've got to replicate Scott Kelly and Steve Von Till's pain, too. Sound can be replicated, but spirit cannot.
Though some of us may have tired of "NeurIsis" clones, most people couldn't tell you anything about that portmanteau. Music fans fail to realize that the world is, actually, pretty fucking big. If your world is intensely focused on one scene, of course you're going to get super irritated when people bastardize a sound you hold dear. So while Neurosis means a lot to a certain group of people, influence is a tricky thing to measure. Neurosis have changed metal and hardcore for the better, but how many people does that amount to influencing? If you play a sick riff and Kanye or T-Swift doesn't pick up on it, did it make a sound? As Buzz Osborne will tell you, cred isn't the currency you can exchange for a house. At least Neurosis perseveres, maintaining and building a legacy that helped change metal. Their influence, like their sound, creeps slowly. Here's hoping it continues long past their upcoming 30th anniversary run.
Neurosis perform at Cat's Cradle tonight with Sumac and Brothers of the Sonic Cloth, and tickets are still available.