Neurosis. Jarboe. A collaboration that at first might raise some eyebrows, but after a thought or two and certainly after hearing the fruit of their joint labour, it seems as though their partnership was destined to take place. The Swans were unquestionably an influence on the confrontational and inventively bludgeoning work of Neurosis. The band’s sound is often abysmal and adds an entirely new dimension and depth to the concept of heaviness – much the way the Swans’ “Filth” did in the early 1980s. Not quite metal, not quite Industrial, but a violent combination of both, exceeding the intensity of either to reach a whole new plateau of sonic punishment and aural nausea. Neurosis (and Godflesh, as well) carried on Michael Gira’s misanthropic torch after he himself grew tired of the limitations that eventually arose from relying upon themes of hostility alone. Neurosis have succeeded in transcending those limitations and have forged into unknown territories where skeptical angst, bitter despair, and seething rage explode with catastrophic frenzy or brood with some of the most threatening examples of tension ever captured to record.
Though Jarboe herself did not join the Swans until the final two records of Gira’s aggressive period, she was certainly just as determined to create the same uncompromising noise and musical violence and her contributions were suitably antagonistic. As the Swans began to integrate more traditional dark rock and acoustic elements into their sound, Jarboe blossomed from angsty art punk into a tortured torch singer, bellowing out such throaty laments as “Song For Dead Time” and “The Other Side Of The World.” But her unreserved edge still resurfaced in songs like “Mother/Father” from “The Great Annihilator” release, one of the Swans’ last truly great albums. It had been years since Jarboe sang on material as loud or as heavy as Neurosis can be capable of, but on this new release, she finally receives the full spotlight.
Jarboe bears the blunt of ugliness and rage in such a way that even the most misanthropic black metal vocalist could not even begin conceive of. Her starkly introspective lyrics are paired with the raw sounds of a frighteningly appropriate group of musicians. The result is a genuine masterpiece of dark art. Jarboe’s performance is mind-blowing, astounding, and downright terrifying at times. She has no peer save for Diamanda Galas, but the difference is that an equally dark and intense band is present to push Jarboe’ vocal power and vision beyond anything even the deepest of nightmares could fathom.
This is a very uneasy and difficult listening experience. The overall vibe of the album is extremely claustrophobic, languid and dense. The songs are long and have few changes, and depending upon your tastes, much of the album will either hypnotize you – or you might start fidgeting and get kind of restless. The dynamics, however, are explosive if you allow yourself to surrender patiently and see where things are heading. The tone and mood of the album as a whole is relentlessly dark. While there are several quieter, reflective passages that evoke a very strong and sophisticated atmosphere, the most unforgettable moments are when things are at their most confrontational.
The album’s masterful opening cut, “Within,” builds from a subtle collage of feedback and tense percussion into a full-scale aural bludgeoning, consisting of cavernous drones, distorted bass lines, buzzing electronics, and pounding drums – a wall of sound in classic Neurosis style. Uncompromisingly bottom heavy, the song rumbles into life and paralyzes the listener. The music alone is inescapable in its density, but once Jarboe appears with an odd, nasally voice (quite unlike her usual style of singing), the hairs on the back of your neck begin to rise and your flesh earnestly attempts to creep right off of your bones. “I tell ya, if god wants to take me, he will” is Jarboe’s strange refrain, underscored by more of her bizarre vocal expressions, daemonic and unrestrained whispers, gasps, frenzied tantrums, and breathless panting. Sudden a cappella interludes cut through the momentous mantra (here, Jarboe’s voice appears in its recognizable alto style), offering a brief respite before the unrelenting nightmare flashes back again, marching steadfast toward a disorienting finale.
It’s tough to digest, but the next few tracks take a few introspective steps back, first with the lumbering ballad “His Last Words” and the disharmonic sludge of “Taker.” The songs slowly and grippingly wind through their various peaks and valleys, confidently and carefully, the listener never quite sure when the eerie tranquility will finally explode into a louder, more punchy attack. Both Neurosis and Jarboe seem to have written these songs without any boundaries, eager to experiment with sounds and arrangements and vocal ideas that neither has ever explored individually. While the music is definitely very much in league with what fans expect from Neurosis, the band seems more willing to allow the songs to breathe and gestate before unleashing their distinctive fury.
“Receive” is a spacious, depressive, and minimalist masterpiece. Chiming clean and acoustic guitars echo throughout a dreary vacuum, anchored by deep bass and reverberated piano chords. Jarboe’s voice rises majestically out of the emptiness, pleading, pinched in pain, imploring and shaken, throaty and projecting brilliantly. “Mother, deliver me, I’m ready to be received.” Very similar to the pastoral dirges of the Swans’ later years, this is Jarboe at her funereal best.
The second half of the disc begins with the most shocking, intense, and memorable track of the album. “Erase” is a track that you have to hear to believe, an epic, violent, slab of Doom-laden torment, with Jarboe’s spiteful performance at the heart of it all. She sings with her teeth clenched, her tongue spewing forth venom and poison, with a command that utterly transcends and shatters whatever preconceived ideas anyone could have of this particular woman’s vocal supremacy. At the catastrophic peak of this song, Jarboe pushes her voice further than what is honestly HEALTHY for her, toward self-annihilating and sadistic cruelty. The result is a sickening, nauseating fury, where you can almost hear her vocal cords ripping within her throat, howling with rage, disintegrating into an incomprehensible squeal. It is an astounding, venerable and unrelenting expression of pain. I still can’t believe how violent this track is. It will linger with you long after the final note is wrung from her suffering throat.
“Cringe” can hardly follow such an unbridled expression of passion, but it succeeds in taking the album down different paths. Detached synths and drones swirl about, with Jarboe’s ghostly vocals drifting in and out above distorted rhythms, a more menacing and organic Portishead or Massiv Attack. “In Harm’s Way” is a momentous, driving song, propelled by tribal drumming, dreary guitar riffs, buoyant and excellent vocal projections all coalescing into a peculiar anti-climax of disjointed rhythms and discordant guitars. “Seizure” closes the album on a more passive and experimental note, vocals ebbing and flowing atop waves of guitar harmonies and sustained feedback, reaching a choral zenith, with Jarboe announcing “I’m ready…” to perhaps bring the album full circle…if god chooses to take her, that is.
I cannot say much more about the album, other than it is absolutely brilliant. This is truly like a dream come true for fans of these artists, and it is remarkably successful collaboration. Don’t miss this! (And look for a review of Neurosis’ upcoming release “The Eye Of Every Storm” in the upcoming months).
Jarboe – vocals and lyrics
Produced by William Faith
Jarboe – Official Site:
Neurosis – Official Website:
Swans – Official Site: