Sludge has no definition without Neurosis! I know it's not good to talk in such catch-all terms but I got to experience this for myself last night at The Button Factory, Dublin. You haven't felt music weigh so heavy until you have had 'Locus Star' thrown at your senses while the menacing presence of Steve Von Till threatens to head butt you from the stage.
The atmosphere is decidedly chilled in the time before the music begins. Irish experimental sludge outfit Drainland get us in the mood for an intense night ahead. These guys I will be keeping an eye out for over the next while, I only had the opportunity to listen to one track on their Myspace page before going to the gig and they went beyond my expectations entirely. A savage brew of deathly deep, Isis meets Eyehategod style sludge that the crowd loved. The band too expressed their appreciation, the frontman told of how they usually play to crowds of 10 or so people. This was posted on their Tumblr after the show:
We expected to be playing to 50 people while everyone had a pre-Neurosis pint. To play to ten times that amount, and be made to feel like we had an entire venue on our side in our home town actually blew our minds. If you were there, thank you so much. It meant a lot to us. Also, if you’re one of the (shocking large amount) of folks who bought a cd, record or shirt, thanks so much again, you’ve just helped fund our tour in August.
No doubt we'll see them again in August! Neurosis did not keep us waiting. A few familiar faces got straight to setting up gear, roadies including members of Totimoshi and A Storm of Light. Enter the band. A totally non-assuming Scott Kelly, dressed in hoodie, trucker cap and jersey casually picks up his guitar and tunes up. In no time at all the lights go low, the backdrop is projected and the ominous sounds of 'Locus Star' arrive to the ears and the crowd gets excited; that frightening scream is what they're waiting for. Out it comes, you are experiencing Neurosis!
The set is uncompromising from hereon in, next up comes 'Given to the Rising', like the darker moments from Shrinebuilder, this one picks you up and refuses to release you until it decides. After it finally does so, we find ourselves dropped into the classic 'Times of Grace' album with 'End of the Harvest'. Synth man, Noah Landis, keeps the sound textures thick but not overdone between each track so we poor suffering ears are never given a moment's rest. 'Harvest's' vocal assault from Scott, Steve and bassist Dave are bludgeoning enough without the guitars behind them.
Dave Edwardson impressed me immensely, I can see why Troy Sanders idolises him. Many of the sounds that listening to records, I would have assumed were synths were creations of Dave's using fuzz, chorus fx and volume manipulation.
Half way through we are hit with about 12 minutes of 'At The Well'. A more tortured sound from a voice, I could not give you anything more sorrowful that Von Till's sonorous vocal. We return again to 'Times of Grace' for a stirring rendition of 'Belief'. Edwardson's bass creates cracks that could scare rats from their holes while Von Till and Kelly allow the feedback to build up. Noah Landis displays his best noise work along with his voice for this one.
Finally, the speakers send out unholy sounds that cue drummer Jason Roeder, accompanied on percussion by Von Till, to begin the official soundtrack to the end of the world, 'Through Silver in Blood'. Those wonderfully dissonant guitars blaze away like no thrash band ever thought to try and the band seem to go slowly insane. Kelly has already head butted his mic once by this stage, now Von Till and Landis are shaking their respective gear violently.
It all comes back down to the percussion to end it all, after Von Till has explored the twisted world of feedback and Edwardson has distorted his bass as far as it will go. While I fully expected this to be an emotional experience (and make no mistake, that it was!), it was not quite as scary as A Storm of Light, or as moving as Isis. This was, however, the most truly punk rock thing I have seen in a long time. There is no bullshit with Neurosis, the genuine vibe runs deep through everything they are doing on that stage and as I said at the outset, the definition of Sludge can be seen there in front of you!
Neurosis, supported by Drainland,
Live at the Button Factory, Dublin, July 25, 2011.
Listen to Drainland here: http://www.myspace.com/drainlanddublin/music
By Edward Gerard Brophy
For Born Again Nihilist, 2011.