Just when I thought I had a few days to recover after Tuska Open Air, I had to go see yet another great band. Titans of a genre I could only hesitantly shorten as post-hardore atmospheric sludge, NEUROSIS came to do a club show at Tavastia in Helsinki on July 4th, 2017. Having performed at Tuska twice in the last 10 years, it seemed a fitting epilogue. Opening for them was Laitila-bred DARK BUDDHA RISING, brandishing their own brand of psychedelic sludge/doom metal. A veritable banquet of gloom was no doubt in store.
The reason the club show by NEUROSIS seemed appealing to me is that, even though they have played in Finland in the past and I have seen them two or three times, those were all festivals such as Tuska and Ruisrock. Even though their genre may be difficult to place, their sound definitely doesn’t benefit from blue skies and a warm summer breeze; they are best enjoyed under the cover of darkness.
From the minute the doors opened, the place filled up at a constant rate, right up until the first band started playing. I heard from the coat check that they had sold 500 tickets in advance; clearly the audience was hungry for both bands. The atmosphere was absolutely tailor-made for the night. Even the playlist was a perfect selection of music in which the crowd might be interested. Groups like TREES OF ETERNITY, CONAN, or AVATARIUM; generally slow, low, and depressing. Tavastia has hosted audiences like this before and the event was organized by Blow Up the Gramophone, whom you may recognize for their annual Blow Up festivals, which celebrate doom and gloom in all its forms.
Starting off the night was the one and only opening act, DARK BUDDHA RISING. I wasn’t a big fan of them – I’d heard some of their stuff and I liked them, but didn’t think they were all that special. Yet here they were, facing a full house. The lights went pitch black. It was complete darkness, absolute silence. As the band walked on stage, a gut churning, droning hum began to sound. The drummer counted the band in. To my surprise they laid down a fat psychedelic jam. It was the perfect mix of prog and gloom. The low-end of the sound was overwhelming. Every hair, every follicle on my body shook and resonated with it. Most of that seemed to come out of this infernal noise box the synth player, J. Saarivuori (also known from HEXVESSEL), possessed.
Then the lead vocalist ascended. The band was back-lit and their appearances were very much shrouded in darkness; therefore, it was difficult to ascertain who the singer was. I heard they had a new one and based on the voice and overall demeanor I’d guess it’s a woman. I couldn’t find who it was because every site insists that it was their current singer is M. Neuman, a man. Assuming it was him, he did a thousand times better than he did on “Inversum,” their last release. The vocals were interesting, diverse, and powerful. He also spent half the show on his knees, as if pleasing the dark lord. It was awesome either way.
The audience, myself included, was so stunned that they didn’t even flinch during the performance. Everyone simply stood there in awe. Just when I thought I’d be in for another mediocre opening act, they gave us this fantastic show. It only lasted 30 minutes, leaving us all wanting more, but it was spectacularly bloodcurdling nonetheless.
NEUROSIS themselves were up next. They also began in pitch-black. They came up one by one as the intro tape to “Lost,” from the classic “Enemy of the Sun” played. The existential recording really set the mood. Played in their current style, with their current line-up, it was a spectacular way to open. They followed soon after with “A Shadow Memory” from the new album, “Fires Within Fires.” It was a good song to showcase the true weirdness of the group: slow and contemplative crossed with pure hardcore brutality.
Directly after that, they played a classic from “Through Silver in Blood,” namely “Locust Star.” It was all the right kinds of weird. It uses some bizarre effects, which synth player Noah Landis decided to recreate live. He not only handled the keyboards, but he also had a laptop open at all times, presumably controlling both the backing-tracks and the band’s own click-track. His set-up also included a box with inwardly protruding prongs. He hit said prongs rhythmically to produce whatever sound the song needed at the time. From a purely technical stance I can see how it should be some two steps too much effort, but in the moment I felt all the more appreciative of their craft when I saw them do these things as live as they possibly could. It was also downright mind-boggling to watch Landis merely gesture these effects into being.
They went on to play a few of these backtrack-heavy songs like “Takeahnase” to enforce their prowess in the field, but continued to focus on songs from the new album, such as “Fire is the End Lesson,” “Broken Ground,” and “Bending Light.” In between songs, they dimmed the lights to build atmosphere; this would not have been possible at an open air festival. It did leave the band in an awkward position wherein they needed to use flashlights just to find their various guitar pedals and wires, etc. They also played as loud as loud could be. I was wearing my best earplugs and at times I felt like I wasn’t wearing any at all.
NEUROSIS had three vocalists, as usual. The two lead vocalists were guitar players Scott Kelly and Steve von Till, with backing vocals (exclusively low growls) from bass player Dave Edwardson. Kelly and von Till demonstrated their prowess in hardcore screaming and yelling that night, but fans of theirs will know they can do so much more. Near the end of the set we got to witness a fun moment in which Kelly was having feedback issues with his mic and he knocked it over in rage, never letting it hinder his guitarwork. The poor technicians rushed over in a panic whilst Kelly just jammed with the rest of the band like nothing had ever happened. It was hilarious.
NEUROSIS were once again the masters of their craft. They walked the line between artsy and heavy… and stuck the landing. The performance was, from a practical standpoint, perfect. On the other hand, I can’t forget that first time I saw them, in Tuska ’09. Not only did they play more of my favorites like “The Sun that Never Sets” and “Through Silver in Blood,” of which the latter was complete with extra tribal percussion by Kelly and von Till. On that show, Kelly and von Till also voluntarily knocked down mic stands all the time and even smashed the mics on their foreheads leaving visible marks. I can’t endorse artists to actively harm themselves, but it did display a sort of passion that was lacking in this performance.
Also, Tavastia seemed a small venue for them but fortunately they had the foresight to adjust ticket prices to a whopping 52€ at the door. This had me a bit worried about how successful the night would be, but the enthusiasm of the fans proved me wrong yet again. Never bet against the fans, they are the ones who make this scene. DARK BUDDHA RISING also showed me they were a force to reckon with. They did, however, only play for 30 minutes and NEUROSIS for a meager 1h 20 min. Overall, it was a great night, but for the casual fan it was easily overpriced. Perhaps if next time they took a risk at say, The Circus, they could bring the price down a bit. I would recommend seeing the bands themselves and I personally will surely check them both out next time they are in town.
Written by Vincent Parkkonen