The eleventh album from the Oakland-based shamans in Neurosis is an hour-long answer to the question, “When is ‘tired’ not tired?” You see, on Honor Found In Decay, Neurosis sounds weary. Now wait, hear me out: This isn’t the weariness of marrow-deep exhaustion, or the weariness of a well of inspiration long since neglected and now desiccated. Instead, this latest album mines the weariness of coming in from the land with cracked hands and humbled bones after the day’s long work, settling down on an old chair and pulling off work boots caked with mud and grit, but then picking up a guitar that’s weathered just as many storms and sitting in the aching stillness to let that mud and grit speak.
You can hear that weariness in the careful space that is made throughout this often sparse and meditative album for quiet. “At the Well” demonstrates this, with several delicate sections that play to these ears like the band members looked up from their instruments, contemplated whether they had the will to continue, then nodded their grim agreement in unison before hurtling back down into another oak-hewn riff. The endless crash and tumble of the song’s glorious conclusion demonstrates that the world itself is tired, and raw, and heaving, but that it goes on as long as someone is there to channel its tumult. Another such moment is the midsection of “My Heart for Deliverance,” which pings and echoes with the very best of Sigur Rós. The riff that takes up the last four minutes of the song, meanwhile, is a legitimately spiritual thing – a ragged hymnal for a busted world.
In terms of the Neurosis canon, Honor Found In Decay is a forking path, orthogonal to the imaginary midpoint between The Eye of Every Storm and Given to the Rising. The album strikes a balance between the churning riffage and baleful howling of the latter and the patient, suspended warmth of the former, but feels, too, more than ever, like folk music. Steve Von Till and Scott Kelly have both put out albums in the ‘whiskey-voiced man sits on stool with acoustic guitar’ genre, and much of Honor Found In Decay’s stirring rootsiness emanates from the same archetypal images and gestures of Americana. And for what it’s worth, the album may as well have been titled Wisdom Found In Atavism, inasmuch as that sentiment captures the basic thrust of Neurosis’s decades’ long dredging of deep places.
Three songs make this album an indispensable one: “At the Well,” “My Heart for Deliverance,” and “Casting of the Ages.” The main riff on “Casting of the Ages,” in fact, is, with no exaggeration, a once-in-a-lifetime sort of riff. It’s the sort of riff that exhausts one’s stock of metaphors; the sort of riff that makes most other things feel silly and small and petty; the sort of riff that makes the king and the jester sit down together in the pigsty and look up at the sky and just wonder at it all.
If there’s a principal complaint to be leveled, it’s that the remaining four songs can’t hope to touch the immensity of the aforementioned trio. Still, while Honor Found In Decay may lack the stylistic through-line that has set apart Neurosis’s very finest albums (Through Silver in Blood and The Eye of Every Storm, I’m looking at you), its patient cycling of a wider range of moods and textures proves that while the band may indeed be weary, it is also restless. “Bleeding the Pigs” toys intentionally with Neurosis’s formula: all build, little burst, and if you squint just right it might pass as a lost Killing Joke/Amebix jam. Album closer “Raise the Dawn,” on the other hand, cocks its hat back off the forehead and wipes cooling sweat from its brow. It is music for a quotidian summoning: rise to your feet, steel your spine against the settling earth, and step back onto the plains as rust-colored skies huddle down close against the heat-bent horizon. The album closes, finally, with the sounds of violin and banjo shuffling through a lost or imagined dust bowl waltz.
There’s no rest for the weary, not when there are stories to be told.