Neurosis + Bell Witch @ Corona Theatre – 14th August 2019

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Nearly 35 years after their inception, sludge and post-metal legends Neurosis are as essential a live band as ever. Still supporting their latest release, 2017’s exquisitely titled Fires Within Fires, the band recently performed at Montreal’s Corona Theatre.

I was unable to catch openers Deafkids, a Brazilian experimental punk trio currently signed to Neurosis’ own label, Neurot Recordings, though I arrived on time for Seattle funereal doom peddlers Bell Witch. Composed of six-string bassist and vocalist Dylan Desmond, and drummer, foot organist, and growler, Jesse Shreibman, the band lurched through a single uninterrupted composition over their 45-minute set. While nearly impossible to head-bang to given the languorous tempo, Bell Witch are nonetheless an impressive live act to witness. Desmond’s two hands on the neck bass playing technique, a combination of tapped melodies in the upper register and hammered low-end chords, is particularly noteworthy. By the time their performance had reached its peak, Shreibman’s drums had mutated from measured and sparse punctuation of Desmond’s spacious playing, into something resembling an actual beat that you could nod your head to. A few technical issues prevented Bell Witch’s set from being truly immersive, however. Specifically, Desmond’s bass lacked quite a bit of low-end presence during the heavier moments, which left a lot of the crescendos feeling underwhelming instead of crushing. That said, it seemed like the sound improved as the set progressed. I look forward to seeing what’s next for this band, as their most recent record Mirror Reaper is a thing of beauty.

After a brief intermission, Neurosis took the stage and immediately launched into their perennial opener “A Sun That Never Sets,” from the 2001 album of the same name. Anchored by Jason Roeder’s hesitant drums, more a percussive ellipsis than an actual beat, and Noah Landis’ indescribable whistle sample that somehow feels like it’s being batted around by the harsh snare, the song crawled to life. Slowly, Steve Von Till and Scott Kelly’s eerie guitar lines came into focus. As Von Till howled “the blood is my strength, I’m not alone,” the song soared into a psychedelic coda that made for a hell of a first impression. They followed up with “My Heart for Deliverance” from 2012’s Honor Found in Decay. Following an intro of ominous delayed guitars and static samples, the song erupted into one of the band’s most relentless riffs, pushed forward by Roeder’s tectonic fills and Scott Kelly’s corrosive vocals. The song’s bridge features one of the most gentle passages in Neurosis’ entire catalogue, with drums dropping out to reveal chiming post-rock guitars and a few crystalline keyboard notes. The calm was eventually shattered by a monstrous riff-led by a tremulous, bleating, feedback drone from keyboardist Noah Landis, who’s critical importance to Neurosis’ sound is made all the more apparent in a live setting.

They followed up with “My Heart for Deliverance” from 2012’s Honor Found in Decay. Following an intro of ominous delayed guitars and static samples, the song erupted into one of the band’s most relentless riffs, pushed forward by Roeder’s tectonic fills and Scott Kelly’s corrosive vocals. The song’s bridge features one of the most gentle passages in Neurosis’ entire catalogue, with drums dropping out to reveal chiming post-rock guitars and a few crystalline keyboard notes. The calm was eventually shattered by a monstrous riff-led by a tremulous, bleating, feedback drone from keyboardist Noah Landis, who’s critical importance to Neurosis’ sound is made all the more apparent in a live setting.

Interestingly, the band seemed to eschew playing some of their more notorious material. Setlist staples such as “Locust Star” from 1996’s Through Silver in Blood, and “The Doorway” from 1999’s Times of Grace were absent, and in their place was a variety of deep cuts from their newer material. Songs such as “Bending Light” with its queasy, arcing fuzz guitars, and “To The Wind,” where a gorgeous gliding intro erupts into an overt nod to Neurosis’ mid-80s hardcore punk past.

The set was capped off with a pair of Neurosis’ most bludgeoning tracks, “End of the Harvest” and “Stones from the Sky.” “Harvest,” with its massive staccato riff and machine-gun drums, featured the lone vocal performance of bassist Dave Edwardson, who’s guttural screams coalesced with Von Till and Kelly’s voices into a hydra of anger and despair. This was truly the evening’s peak moment of catharsis. The band then rode the main riff of “Stones from the Sky” right into oblivion, sounding not unlike a meteor shower pummeling the Earth’s surface. Neurosis are a stellar live band. They play with precision, clarity and grace, and their live sound is always impeccable. They are true legends and we are lucky to have them releasing music and performing so many years into their career. Their set at the Corona Theatre was further proof of these facts.

Review – Jean-Michael Lacombe
Photos – Steve Gerrard

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