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Live Report: Neurosis, Converge & Amenra

Neurosis by Diana Lungu
Neurosis by Diana Lungu

Unlike most forms of rock and roll, heavy metal is not exclusively a “young person’s game.” While the genre’s lifeblood is its enduring appeal to younger generations learning how to best shock their family and peers, and, while younger acts are more likely to rewrite the rules when making new music, metal is very gracious to its old guard. It’s hard to imagine the equivalent of Neurosis touring with Converge and Amenra being received the same way in another genre. When that trio, each with a debut record a decade older than the act before them, performed at Chicago’s Thalia Hall on July 28th, the crowd didn’t treat the event like a trip down memory lane, but a summit of accomplished innovators.

Reading a crowd is about as soft a science as it gets in the already loose field of live music reporting, but it’s a fair assumption that the packed hall during Amenra’s set wasn’t just there to pregame for the night’s main attractions. Good thing too, because the Belgian post-metal band do not make it easy to order drinks. The group play at oppressive and bass-heavy volumes almost exclusively, only dropping down to a near whisper long enough to make their eventual return to full force all the more wig-splitting. When I saw them at Roadburn in 2016, this all or nothing approach left me a bit cold, but under the time constraints of an opening set it worked like gangbusters. It also helped draw attention to the band’s understated sense of theater. Halfway through their set singer Colin “CHVE” Van Eeckhout removed his shirt to reveal a thick tattoo running down his spine, a true “don’t fuck with me” signifer if there ever was one. Then, during the final moments of the band’s performance, Eeckhout turned to face the crowd for the first time in the night, right as the band’s projects switched from austere slow motion to a whirl of edits. While Amenra have nowhere near the following of the bands higher on the bill, but this memorable ending proved they had every right to share the stage with certified legends.

“Hello. We’re Converge, we’ve been a band for 6,000 years”. A slight exaggeration from singer Jacob Bannon, but one that provided an important reminder; for a band that sounds like two velociraptors getting into a heated argument over a malfunctioning woodchipper, Converge do have a sense of humor. In between songs about betrayal, loss, and desperation, Bannon was quick to crack jokes at overly enthusiastic members of the crowd and deflated the tension while guitarist Kurt Ballou dealt with technical issues. With those minor hiccups out of the way, Converge tore through a set that was balanced slower numbers likely to appeal to Neurosis fans (“You Fail Me”, “Worms Will Feed/Rats Will Feast”, “Predatory Glow”, “Jane Doe”) with the blisteringly fast songs that they’ve built their career off of (“Eagles Become Vultures”, “Concubine”). As is often the case, drummer Ben Koller stole the show. Koller, fresh off a stint with Mutoid Man[link] was in full hair metal mode, grinning like a loon and swinging his sticks behind his back to hit his hi-hat and Neurosis drummer Jason Roeder’s kit.

Some things in this world are born old. Looking at the face of Morgan Freeman or Harry Dean Stanton, it is difficult to imagine them as young men. By the time a mountain is visible to the naked eye, the tectonic plates that pushed the earth skyward have been rubbing against each other for a staggering number of years.

Ever since turning heavy music on it’s head in the early 90’s, Neurosis have felt very much the same way. At its best, their music feels older than it could possibly be, as if through the alchemy of electric instruments and digital sampling, the Oakland quintet have tapped into the vein of some primal tradition older than time. This is why even 30 years after the release their debut album Pain of Mind, Neurosis concerts have remained must see attractions in the metal world. If anything, age has clarified their sound. The older they get, the more like Neurosis they become, and the more viciously present their music sounds.

Their set was understandably focused on material from last year’s Fires Within Fires. Those tracks, while not Neurosis’s best on record, soared in a live setting, their deep, rumbling riffs bouncing off Thalia Hall’s high ceilings. The rest of their set was less predictable. Neurosis leapt across their vast discography to give fans a broadened perspective on their evolution. Fan favorites like “Locust Star” and “The Doorway” sat comfortably next to deep cuts like “Takeahnase”. Outside of “At The End Of The Road” from 2007’s Given To The Rising, a tune that Neurosis seem to hold in high regard but doesn’t quite work live, it was remarkable how well these songs complimented each other. The techniques used may differ from decade to decade, but the goal was the same; each track pushed the listener beyond their state of comfort and shook the air around them.

Despite being from different generations, and, despite superficially sounding very little like each other, Amenra, Converge, and Neurosis presented a path for how to perform daring heavy music long after the hype had worn off. The two bands are spiritual companions, walking separate paths on the road to constant improvement and self expression.

By Diana Lungu
By Diana Lungu

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