Sunday, November 4, 2012

The Neurosis Mysteries Part II

Welcome to the second installment of my series on the legendary metal band Neurosis. In the first part I briefly examined the band's origins and influence before delving into the rich esoteric symbolism used in their work. Neurosis relays on their music as wells as their artwork and multi media-laced concerts to convey complex ideals steeped in the occult.

When I left off at part one I had been examining the apocalyptic overtones of their early-to-mid 90s albums. In those works Neurosis presented a world being torn apart by spiritual bankruptcy, among other things. These albums were very morose and angry affairs that examined the effects this corruption had on society as whole in the form of wars, oppression and the like. As the decade came to a close Neurosis' work began to shift gears. Musically they still maintained their mighty heaviness but they began expanding the ambient and atmospheric soundscapes that had previously offered a brief reprieve from this heaviness on earlier albums. Noah Landis' keyboards and samples began to take on a more central role in their sound, especially. Steve Von Till and Scott Kelly would even attempt singing in clean vocals semi-regularly.


The lyrical focus of later albums would seemingly become more personal but no less occult as the album artwork from Times of Grace makes clear. Released in 1999, Neurosis' sixth album marked the beginning of their transition from breathtaking brutality to mysterious subtlety. The album cover displays a wolf, jaws open, either about to be consumed by flames or discharging said flames from said open jaw. Both the wolf and its jaws are ripe with symbolic possibilities.
"This devour symbolism is that of the mouth, the archetypal image of initiation, connected with the phenomena of the alternations of days and nights and of life and death. The mouth devours and regurgitates. It is the initiator assuming, according to place, the shape of the most voracious creature in that particular area --wolf, jaguar, crocodile or other animal. In Scandinavian mythology the wolf is explicitly described as 'devouring the stars...' and bears comparison with the wolf which ate the quail in the Rig-Veda. If, as we have observed, the quail is a symbol of light, the wolf's mouth is night, the cavern, the Underworld or the phase of cosmic pralaya. Release from the wolf's jaws is dawn, the light of initiation which follows a descent into the Underworld or kalpa."
(Dictionary of Symbols, Jean Chevalier & Alain Gheerbrant, pg. 1121)
Is the fire supposed to represent the light of initiation? Another symbol that appears within the CD booklet on the last page, that of the double spiral, seems to indicate this.
"The double spiral symbolizes simultaneously the two directions of this movement, birth and death, kalpa and pralaya, or the 'death' and the rebirth as a changed person which occurs in initiation."
(ibid, pg. 907)
The lyrical content of Grace seems to be based around the concept of initiation, but possibly initiation into the collective unconscious. As the album unfolds a concept of internal illumination emerges, alluding to the notion that the answers are already somewhere in our minds. Many other pages in the CD booklet portray important religions images -that of the Demiurge, the Star of Inanna, the Eye of Providence, etc. The gist of the album seems to be unraveling the unconscious meaning of such symbols.

Grace opens with an aptly titled instrumental called "Suspended in Light" which establishes a suitably druggy atmosphere. From there it moves onto the proper opener, "The Doorway" where the theme of initiation is stated. This is made clear with lines like "To burrow my way through death and flesh/All beasts I let out" and "I'm nailed to the crossroads searching for a piece of me that wasn't mine/Blood dripping from my hands." Various forms of initiation frequently attempt to recreate the state of death from which the initiate will ultimately be resurrected. Crossroads are not overtly associated with initiation but they are frequently places depicted as containing arcane wisdom. They are at times presented as as gateways to the Underworld as well. They are also places to choice a path, both literal and psychological.
"Crossroads are also places where one meets 'the enemy,' either within or without. It is a favorite place for ambush and travellers must be carefully on their guard. The triple Hecate and Hermes, conductor of souls, stand at the crossroads, because this is the place where we must make, by ourselves and within ourselves, the inevitable choice between Earth, Heaven and Hell. The real hazards of living are encountered in the inner life and there, at the crossroads, the only person you ever meet is yourself. You may have sought a positive response, but all you have in prospect are fresh paths, new trials and fresh developments. The crossroads is not the end, it is merely a pause an an invitation to go on. You only linger there so as to react for good or ill upon others, or if you yourself realize that you cannot make a choice. It then becomes a place of meditation and waiting, not action."
(ibid, pg. 261)

At the onset of Grace an internal struggle is unfolding over which path to take: that or normalcy or that of initiation. The latter is chosen and as the album unfolds the struggle of this choice is depicted. The next track, "Under the Surface," deals with the immediate terror and confusion after the path of initiation is chosen. Uncertainty sets in as the calls of "Your river's flow is damned all to hell" that constitutes the chorus makes clear. Still, the narrator continues on the path, proclaiming:

Strong hearts soar through blindness
Tearing the fog, tearing the eyes to clarity
To a place where truth is seen
The next track, "The Last You'll Know," deals with a glimpse the narrator receives of what he's becoming. This invigorates him and presses him on. The next track, "Belief" is as overt as the title implies. Belief drives that narrator among the waves of uncertainty. Track seven, "The End of the Harvest," finds the initiate giving up all that he was in order to complete the transformation that he is undergoing. This is made clear in the opening lines:
Like the walls of your stare, you will fall (within you)
Succumb to the new and give away
Old fields will fail (memory)
Yielding crops of rocks and dust
The ninth track, "Away," deals with the completion of the transformation the initiate has undergone. It is here that the narrator finally overcomes their fear. The title track, the tenth track and final track with lyrics, reflects upon the journey the initiate has been through. This track makes it very clear that journey the initiate has undergone is one of the mind, stating "The secrets of stars hide within the grey." The initiate has also overcome his fear of death, realizing that the cycle shall repeat for eternity. This may be while spiral imaginary is so common in the artwork of this album. 
Neurosis followed up Grace in 2001 with A Sun that Never Sets, possibly their most overtly psychedelic album. Here the band massively scaled back the metal aspects of their sound, incorporating more folk and prog influences as well as the after mentioned psychedelia. They also released a DVD of a full length film that this album accompanies. Needless to say, it's every bit as druggy as the artwork of the album.

Sets seems to roughly revolve around the ancient spiritual path and how it's never been fully suppressed. It also brings back the Crowley-ian concepts of stellar, lunar, and solar cults as the origins of modern religion. Aleister Crowley believed that human beings had originally kept time by the stars, then later by the moon and final via the sun, a state of affairs that still stands today. During each stage myths and traditions arose around each of these heavenly bodies, forming the basis of religion. Of this concept, Crowley-disciple Kenneth Grant writes:
"Time was first reckoned with reference to the circumpolar stars of Ursa Major, or Typhon. She was the Goddess of the North, identical to Nuit or Isis... She was the Primal Goddess of the Seven Stars which were considered as her spirits, souls, or sons. These seven were manifested by the first-born son, Typhon, i.e. Set in the southern constellation of the Great Dog, of which Sirius (Sothis, the soul of Isis) is the brightest star. He was the primal God of Fire or Light in the South, while his mother reigned supreme in the lower heaven of the North. He manifested her light and opened the year by announcing the unundation of the Nile which occurred at the summer solstice, when the sun entered the sign of the Lion.
"The Mother and her brood of seven culminating in Set, were the earliest and most ancient gods of chaos and night. in the later, lunar cult, the Sabean Set became the lunar Thoth, but this was aeons later. Then, when the even later solar cult attained supremacy throughout the land, the cult of the Mother was superseded and the cult of the Fatherhood held sway. It reigned upon the earth and was figured in the heavens by the sun having superseded both the stars and the moon, as a truer teller of time."
(The Magical Revival, pg. 64-65)

This solar cult, initially represented by the Osirisian and later by orthodox Christians (as opposed to the Gnostic strands), attempted to eradicate all traces of the original stellar cult, which Crowley referred to as the Draconian Cult (taken from the Draco constellation). This is a notion that Neurosis seemingly takes up on Set, on  the first track featuring lyrics, "The Tide":
Where are they now?
They are gone
I saw them run,
Run to the sea
Under the waves all has been said
Their voices are free
Free from the sun's stare,
Free from the noise of lost souls
Here Neurosis also seems to be playing around with various traditions of Atlantis in which an initiated priesthood fled its destruction and later spread the knowledge of that society across the seas, in various corners of the earth. Likely this is a metaphor for the destruction the Draconian tradition in the wake of the rise of solar one that nevertheless left enough traces for future generations to recreate it.

The next track, "From the Hill," could by in reference to someone initiated in the Draconian tradition. In some Celtic traditions the Otherworld is said to be located in mounds or hills. The ancient Celts like numerous other peoples the world over built artificial mounds that held great religions significance to them. The title track, one of my favorite songs, I've already written on before here and will not address in this piece save to say that it plays into Crowley's concept of "solar consciousness." Click on the following link if your want to read more on that topic.
The title track is followed by "Falling Unknown," a thirteen-plus minute epic that could chronicle an attempt at illumination through psychedelics. It could also simply be a peon to the uncertainty surrounding a journey into the arcane. This song is followed by one of the most curious on the entire album, "From Where Its Roots Run." Driven by one of the few instances of tribal beats in Sets, the song features either Kelly or Von Till reciting ancient Germanic runes. The runes of course play a major role in Nordic mythology, especially in relation to the god Odin or Wotan, who is loosely akin to the Greek god Hermes or his Roman counterpart Mercury. Of Odin and the runes mythologist Edith Hamilton writes:
"He won the knowledge of the Runes, too, by suffering. The Runes were magical inscriptions, immensely powerful for him who could inscribe them on anything --wood, metal, stone. Odin learned them at the cost of mysterious pain. He says in the Elder Edda that he hung
Nine whole nights on wind-rocked tree,
Wounded with a spear
I was offered to Odin, myself to myself
On that tree of which no man knows
"He passed the hard-won knowledge on to men. They too were able to use the Runes to protect themselves."
(Mythology, pg. 455)
Odin upon Yggdrasil

Interestingly, the video for "From Where Its Roots Run" is a trippy affair showing an individual being suspended from a tree by the feet. This is possibly how human sacrifices were offered to Odin.
"The human victims dedicated to Odin were regularly put to death by hanging or by a combination of hanging and stabbing, the man being strung up to a tree or a gallows and then wounded with a spear. Hence Odin was called the Lord of the Gallows or the God of the Hanged, and he is represented sitting under a gallows tree. Indeed he is said to have been sacrificed to himself in the ordinary way, as we learn from the weird verses of the Havamal, in which the god describes how he acquired his divine power by learning the magic runes..."
(The Golden Bough, James Frazer, pgs. 355-356)
Sacrifices to Odin

As the album winds down it seems to shift its focus back to the return of ancient spiritual traditions. "Watchfire" falls into this description and even invokes the ancient megaliths that have inspired so many theories over the years. The album closer, "Stones From the Sky," goes even further with the megalith theme.

"Stones" is a major fan favorite and for good reason. It's the type of epic and trippy journey into inner space that a band like Pink Floyd could only dream of writing. The song, over ten minutes, is built around a repeating guitar riff over which guitarist Scott Kelly and keyboardist Noah Landis send the mind into flight. The video for the song prominently features a raven throughout, continuing with the Odinic motif introduced on "From Where Its Root Run." In Scandinavian mythology two ravens, Hugin (Mind) and Munnin (memory), are often depicted as perched upon his throne.

an image from the video for "Stones From the Sky"

Beyond the title "Stones" most overtly invokes megaliths via the lines "Walking amongst the stones/From the sky/Feeling their rhythm wash over me." One of the most fantastical theories surrounding ancient megaliths is that they were a kind of acoustic sound-based technology that had curious effects on the human body.
"It's worth recalling that the legends uncovered by Geoffrey of Monmouth suggests the giant stones of Stonehenge, possibly maneuvered by acoustics, possessed healing properties. Interestingly, a great deal of research has been undertaken in recent years into the effects of acoustics on the human body. For example, the Website of the Encinitas, California-based Center for Neuroacoustic Research notes: 'Cutting edge, scientific sound technology, combined with a deep understanding of the ancient use of sound to heal and expand consciousness, has brought CNR the ability to balance the autonomic nervous system in real time.'"
(The Pyramids and the Pentagon, Nick Redfern, pg. 231)

The final lyrics of both the song and the album are "You've been shown over and over, don't you know?" Given the rich esoterica of Neurosis' catalogue, this is as fitting a message that they could deliver to their listeners as any.

Said listeners expanded somewhat with the release of the next album, The Eye of Every Storm. This album would make inroads with indie hipsters who became fascinated with post-metal in the early 00s. Please don't hold this against Neurosis, who remained as compelling as ever. Sonically this album continues in the direction of Sets. Keyboardist/sampler Noah Landis had taken on an even bigger role in the songwriting at this point and it shows --His keys have become as important a component to Neurosis' sound as Kelly and Von Till's guitars.

Lyrically this album seems somewhat more personal than prior releases. Both "Left to Wander" and album closer "I Can See You" seem to mainly revolve around coming to terms with death. Album opener "Burn" comes off as yet another call to alternative spirituality in the face of stifling materialism.
You choke your first breath of wildfire and ocean's depths
Climb out of your hole, see your spirit take form
The world of cold stone gives nothing in return
To those who sleep while the restless burn
There are those few driven to flame
Most are content to drown in the wake of dreams 
Curiously, the title track can be interpreted as initiation into a secret society gone wrong, especially the calls of "Oath breaker sinks low." It begins with the lines "A wind carries your scent to those who will find you out/A storm forces you down to seek shelter from the rain" and from there alludes broadly to the fallout that comes from crossing an outfit such as the Masons, the Illuminati or any other such group that crops up in conspiracy culture in such a context. Is that eye of the storm then seeing such groups for what they are?

Neurosis followed up Storm with 2007's Given to the Rising. As noted before, the prior two albums, A Sun That Never Sets and The Eye of Every Storm, represented a change of direction for Neurosis. On those two albums they majorly downplayed the metal aspects of their sound, bringing their prog, psychedelia, electronica and folk influences to the forefront. Steve Von Till and Scott Kelly generally adopted more conventional vocal deliveries (i.e. there was little screaming) while keyboardist Noah Landis became an even bigger part of the band's sound. Even the artwork for these two albums took on more of an abstract form based around extremes in weather (heat for Sets and the cold for Storm).

Rising marked yet another shift in direction, as the artwork makes immediately apparent. While Sets and Storm employed more abstract art Rising uses a more realistic approach, using physical props for the album artwork rather than paintings in all cases. The cover depicts the head of a horse wearing a pair of antlers on either side of it's head. Both horses and antlers are riddled with symbolism, especially in shamanistic cultures. As to the latter, the antlers of a deer or stag have frequently been likened to the Tree of Life and death and rebirth because they fall off and grow anew yearly not unlike the cycle of life. The deer or stag was also seen as a conductor of souls to central Asian shamans who frequently wore iron copies of their antlers on their head or backs during rituals.
The horse has very complex symbolism, some of it positive, some of it negative. Horses have a well known association with death and the chthonian world. They are also associated with nobility, control and mastery. The horse can be either a lunar or solar creature, depending upon the culture and era. In shamanistic cultures they are frequently associated with journeys into the Underworld.
"Through its clairvoyance and knowledge of the other world, the horse played a major part in shamanistic ceremonies. The good spirit of the shamans of the Altai region, which accompanies them on their soothsaying journeys, possesses 'horse's eyes which enable it to see thirty days' journey ahead. It watches over mankind and tells the supreme deity of their doings... Most of the adjuncts of the shaman's trance were related to the horse. Thus the skin of the ritual drum, rhythmically beaten to induce trance and bring it to climax, was more often than not that of horse or stag, and Yakut and other tribes expressly called it 'the shaman's horse...' Lastly, shamans often use for their passages into the Otherworld a stick with a carved horse's head, called the 'horse-stick', used, in a way reminiscent of the witch's broomstick, like a live horse."
(Dictionary of Symbols, Jean Chevalier & Alian Gheerbrant, pg. 518)
a shaman with horse sticks

Despite the heavily shamanistic overtones of Rising's artwork the album seemingly follows a somewhat more personal path lyrically like it's predecessor. Many of the songs seem to reflect upon the war-torn world that emerged in the 00s. This is very much in keeping with the musical direction of the album. Here Neurosis' sludge and doom influences return in force along with Von Till and Kelly's hoarse growls and tortured screams. Landis' keyboards still play a major role but the guitars on this album are heavier and more prominent than anything the band's done since Grace, maybe even Through Silver in Blood. Jason Roeder also plays a much larger role on this album with his tribal beats once again appearing regularly throughout the album. All of this gives Rising an atmosphere of conflict and decay brought about by endless war.

Jason Roeder

The opening song and title track introduces this theme right off the bat with lines like "The human plague in the womb/Bring clouds of war" and "The wretched harvest reaped by the hands of dawning/Our pain cannot forgive the silent machine of the fatal flaw in man." The next track, "Fear and Sickness," continues in this vein, chronicling how the Earth itself has been poisoned by the greed of our overlords. Amongst spiraling tribal beats either Von Till or Kelly howls "At the center we will find you/ Falling prey to its luster," as apt a description of the corruption of power as any.

"At the End of the Road" reflects upon on the destruction of the natural world. "Hidden Faces" is seemingly the only track on the album that falls into the shamanism hinted at by the cover. The song can be read as a chronicle of a journey into the Otherworld in which the narrator is confronted with the evil ravaging the land.
Through the eyes of the wheel
I will see you coming
Through the waves of lies
I will see you coming
Through the years of burden
I will see you coming
Through the weathering vine
I will see you coming
The feral now feeds you
Instinct is pure
All reactions are sane
Eyes on the mountain
Hidden faces
Spirit faces
an ophanim

The first part about "the eyes of the wheel" seems to be a reference to the ophanim, the burning, eye-covered wheels of Ezekiel's vision. In this context it can be seen as symbolic of the unrolling of divine revelation. The Biblical allusions seem to continue with the reference to the "weathering vine."
"Jesus proclaimed himself the true vine and warned that mankind, the separate branch, could not bear fruit unless they remained in him. Unless the individual did so, he or she withered, cut off and cast into the fire."
(ibid, pg. 1067)
I leave  my readers to decide what the "Hidden faces/Spirit faces" are that the narrator ultimately comes into contact with. As the albums winds down the folly of this pact becomes evident, as the largely spoken-word "Nine" makes clear:

The words of gods lie among us in the glazed clay of ruin
At the source of subtle bodies to know the sky
And how it was hammered into place
Where all graces are electric
And the days are nine
And the nights are nine
All nine.

Nine is of course a number riddled with symbolism. I've written much more on it here so I will not delve to deeply in this piece. Generally speaking though, nine is viewed as a negative, even evil number. It is associated with failure and shortcoming because it fell short of the perfect number 10 by one. It has also been called the number of man because of the nine months of embryonic life a human being undergoes before birth.
This track fades into "Origin," Rising's closer. This track seems to be a reflection upon the corruption the soul undergoes after following impure spiritual paths. The final stanza is quite haunting:
I shattered my curse and spread it through the land
I wander guided, willing, and unclean
Project dark eyes sullen, drawn out and wicked
Nameless lights pull me into a reflected psychic black hole
Is this then meant to indicate the origins of our current misery is a corrupted spirituality? Is this corruption that of the Mystery religions or Christianity or both? Did our woes then begin when we abandoned the primitive spirituality of the shaman for the initiated priest? The lyrics of Rising are ambiguous enough as to not give any answers, only impressions and vibes, but this seems to be the indication. Perhaps this is why the artwork of Rising seems to reflect upon the decay of the shamanistic faith.
It is here that I shall wrap things up. In part one of this series I briefly discussed Christopher Knowles' concept of rock 'n' roll as a modern manifestation of the ancient Mystery religions. I stated that while I partly agree with this assessment, I feel rock at its purest goes further back than the priest-dominated mysteries, all the way back to the primitive faith of the shamans.
There is no band I can think of that better captures this than Neurosis. For nearly three decades they have taken rock back to its very origins and in the process have recreated ritualistic experiences human beings have rarely partaken in for centuries. This is why countless fans have described their concerts as a religious experience over the years. As noted in part one, this seems to have very much been deliberate on the part of Neurosis. The band members have often described creating their music as a spiritual experience and I suspect many fans would use similar language to describe what the music means to them. Certainly this is what Neurosis' music means to me and I suspect Honor Found in Decay will continue in this vein. Hopefully some of my readers will also track down Decay so as to finish initiation in the mysteries of Neurosis.
Trust me, it beats the hell out of 'exposing' the Masonic ritualism of slut pop and hip-hop.



  1. This series is awesome-thanks!
    I don't have anything to add right now except towards the very last sentence-in that I feel that much of the Masonic imagery in pop music today is put there on purpose not for any 'inside' information-just to sell the albums!~a lot to think about -i really want to buy many of these books you are referencing.

  2. Devin-

    I totally agree about the Masonic/Illuminati/Monarch stuff being added mainly to sell albums. I seriously wonder how many of the viewers of the MTV Music Awards and the YouTube videoes of these mega-acts are actual fans as opposed to conspiracy bloggers... The mainstream music industry is already dying thanks to the rise of the Internet -it's self-defeating to keep giving people a reason to pay attention to such things.

    It's for this reason that I've been trying to mainly focus on more underground artists for the last year or so when I write on music. There are far more alternatives to the crap on radio and TV than many people realize.

    The best to you too Dev