In defense of: “The Eye of Every Storm”

Every great band has one album that no one fucking gets no matter how well received, critically and commercially, that band’s canon gets. Led Zeppelin had Presence, Pink Floyd had Animals, and even the Beatles had Magical Mystery Tour. You could argue that they’re albums let loose by bands so ahead of their time that it would be impossible to digest them in the environment in which they were released, but you could more accurately argue that they wanted rock critics decades in the future to laud something that everyone else had not. Either way (or neither way), these sort of time release records stand as a test to the artists that made them: if the record isn’t received well, wait a few years and some will argue it’s the best thing you even did.

Obviously, some records just fucking suck, and people saying hindsight is 20/20 (most of which have no idea what that actually means) are sticking up for a record they really like because they have an undying loyalty to that artist/crappy taste in music. I say One Hot Minute stands up against anything the Red Hot Chili Peppers have done and will do; literally no one else agrees. Not even Dave Navarro, and that guy needs people to like what he does to support his boa (and heroin) habit. But every once and a while, you stand by a record no one gives a shit about and in five or so years, you’ll watch them migrate back to it.

The best example is obviously Weezer’s Pinkerton, an album that absolutely fucking tanked upon its 1996 release, marking what many assumed to be the death of the band. But after taking a long and bizarre hiatus (Rivers Cuomo went and did eccentric things like pursue a Harvard education and have sex with a lot of Japanese teens, the rest of the band either quit or made terrible records with other terrible bands), a cult following gathered, bringing the band back together and pulling off a previously unthinkable resurrection. The result of that resurrection, of course, was a record of cold and mechanical pop songs that stood in direct contrast to the raw and loose emoting of Pinkerton. But of course, in Mr. Cuomo’s defense, if you put out 36 minutes of fresh-wound intimacy only to have it violently shat on commercially and critically, subsequently ruining your career, you’d probably get it in your head that maybe people want you to stick to catchy, “fun” pop songs.

But I remember feeling Pinkerton was special upon its release; “El Scorcho” is still a brilliant oddball love song that could have only come from the dying convulsions of the time when major labels let bands write the songs they wanted to then, you know, release them. When people started coming back to Weezer, half for love of the band and half for the embrace- every- decade- before- this- one- because- this- one- is- so- frightening- and- empty phase that we’re hopefully going to emerge from enough, and discovering the other album– the one without “Buddy Holly” on it– for the first time, I already knew how good it was. The rest is history… and judging by Make Believe, what awful history it has been.

The world of metal, though, makes this a feat even harder to pull off. In a realm where one shitty album means your band is strewn on the “suck” pile right in between Obituary and Entombed until you pull off a late-career “return to form”, consistency is key. That or breaking up after your best album is released is key, then touring on it 15 years later to help with those mortgage payments (Tomas Lindberg and Jeff Walker have some sweet real estate somewhere, I assume). This is not helped by the fact that many metalheads stick only to that: metal. This means experimentation comes off more forced than revelatory, and straying from what originally made you kickass means you’re a sellout. I mean, Slayer have been making the same record for 25+ years, and it’s been doing wonders for them lately… I think.

So when a band like Neurosis comes into play– a band that put “experimental” and “metal” next to eachother long before Myspace made it cool– expanding on an already relatively expansive sound could result in an album that’s harder to swallow than most Old-Guards-Trying-New-Music metal records. The Eye of Every Storm is the epitome of a metal time-release record: it was met with so much critical and audience confusion that every critic that heard their follow up Given to Rising referred it as a triumphant return to form. In retrospect, most cast it as a low point for Neurosis, a time when one of the great metal bands had to walk away from everything good and metal in order to make themselves better. The thing is, though, they’re wrong. The Eye of Every Storm is by no means a misstep; in fact, it’s arguably the band’s most interesting hour, filled with some of their most emotionally effective and challenging music.

Obviously, Neurosis wrote the book on challenging metal. While death and black metallers looked to grind the faces off of casual and non-metalheads, Neurosis took on the genre itself, taking the long-forgotten psychedelic element that Black Sabbath used to found it and immersing every bit of their riff-heavy onslaught in reverb and unconventionality. The result created a different form of attack in metal: while the aforementioned death and black metal used the extremity of violence and blasphemy to engage their listener and jar naysayers, Neurosis used slow, lumbering dissonance to make their listeners uneasy. While their contemporaries evoked Satan, Neurosis aurally evoked Jonestown; while death metal drew upon the real life exploits of serial killers and the (apparent epidemic of) unnecessary surgery, Neurosis drew upon our society’s imminent collapse, resulting in a record as jarring as Reign in Blood, In the Nightside Eclipse, or Left Hand Path: their 1996 masterpiece and touchstone Through Silver and Blood.

But if Through Silver and Blood sounded like the end of the world, The Eye of Every Storm sounds like the devastating aftermath: slow (still) and sad, drawing upon melody to recreate what was once familiar and pleasing. The Eye of Every Storm sounds wounded and vulnerable, but never fragile or frail. Whereas their previous records took softness and sparseness to make their heavier parts more fucking massive, The Eye of Every Storm is the mirror image of that: it’s a record that uses metal as a condiment to occasionally add to their post-apocalyptic stew of melancholy and weariness. And it sounds wonderful.

The most remarkable thing about it is the fact that a record like this was even made. Metal is founded upon heaviness, and heaviness is what keeps casual fans out. Heaviness is not known for its subtlety, and therefore much of metal is about beating your skull about with heaviness. Sure, some space is allowed for quiet parts and other influences to make your heaviness more dramatic in comparison, but the heaviness is always at the center; it keeps you salivating after sitting at work all day listening to your vapid fucking co-workers blather on about who’s going to win American fucking Idol. The Eye of Every Storm is composed almost entirely of that space. Where the band had based its sound in dissonance before this record– occasionally too much so– this record is the opposite, using beautiful, lilting vocal and guitar melody to drive each of these songs home. And while building up momentum to a heavy-as-balls riff was certainly not new to Neurosis, this record has parts that virtually build up to nothing. In fact, the two most Neurosis-iest riffs in the record are found in the first and penultimate tracks, the latter of which doesn’t unleash it until 2 minutes away from its 11 1/2 minute endpoint.

But the brilliance of The Eye of Every Storm lies in these quiet parts. Whereas they relied on hoarse shouting on Through Silver and Blood, almost entire songs (!) composed of singing were present on TSAB‘s (tighter) followup Times of Grace. This record takes them to new heights of effectiveness. The band beautifully incorporates Tom Waits-ian grumbling and groaning throughout the record, illustrating the ruin the record is surrounded in. The title track and “Bridges” both break 11 minutes without getting particularly heavy until the end of the track, if at all. But before it gets heavy, the band comes almost to a halt, bellowing from what sounds like either the bottom of a canyon or the in-between area of two dimensions. Most bands would approach almost-laughable levels of pomposity in this; Neurosis just sound fucking epic.

The most damning accusation made is this record does nothing but meander. Those that insist this weren’t fucking listening; the best part of this record is the fact that it all sounds so damned deliberate. When most artists experiment– down to the Beatles– there’s an air of “Hey, let’s try this, just ’cause!” But Neurosis know what they’re doing on this record, every long passage of sparseness and melody planned completely as to allow for maximum heaviness. The phrase “experiment” implies trying and failing; Neurosis are just doing what they do, knowing and meaning every bit of it. While there are those that charged that The Eye of Every Storm is nothing but pretentious filler with some good riffs every now and again, I argue that every fucking note of this record needs to exist, and while it may seem tedious to some, the payoff is spectacular enough to warrant letting these masters indulge in their unedited vision.

Or maybe I’d wait through a year and a half of Scott Kelly’s drunken Carrie Underwood impression to hear the closing riffs of “Burn” and “Bridges”, respectively. But please God, don’t let it come to that.

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