Review Summary: As we stood receiving fallen stars and reason and dirt.
In 2001, Neurosis were evolving into a more atmosphere-based band, which sort of means that a whole bunch of other metal bands were as well. Neurosis are innovators; they always have been and they always will be. Copied but never replicated, their signature crushing heaviness was still there, but it was offset in places by ambient passages that only made the "metal" parts more effective. Fittingly, it was also in 2001 that Scott Kelly released his first solo album, Spirit Bound Flesh. If fans of Neurosis were unhappy with the progressions made on A Sun That Never Sets, imagine their surprise at one of the manliest men in metal making a folk album.
Spirit Bound Flesh is even more bleak than Kelly's sophomore album The Wake. Whereas The Wake had a sense of hope pervading its songs, Spirit Bound Flesh allows no such feelings to break through its impenetrable wall of desolation. The songs are more repetitive, more driving, and although the moods of the albums may be different, Spirit Bound Flesh is no less effective. In fact, it may be even more so. The album feels cohesive and complete, and because of its relatively short length, the sound never becomes tired. "I Don't Feel You Anymore" is eerily haunting; Kelly repeats the title at the end of the track, his detached vocals mirroring the lyrics perfectly. "The Passage" is a bit more palatable emotionally - it's the closest Spirit Bound Flesh gets to being upbeat, but Kelly's minor key riffing destroys any chance of cheerfulness. His guitar playing is amazing in its simplicity; he isn't afraid to let single notes ring out for two or three seconds, letting each note sink in before introducing a new one. The album's atmosphere is all the more gripping for it, as the songs feel like slow trudges through a desert.
But despite the hopelessness of it all, Spirit Bound Flesh ends up being quite relaxing. It's an album that works both during quiet afternoons and riotous thunderstorms; Kelly's perfected sound seems to blend into the surrounding area, giving objects meaning that had none before. A chair in the corner seems all the more lonesome, a creaky window seems haunting, ruffled blankets seem more inviting to warm bodies. "Sacred Heart," an acapella track, is actually a bit soulful - Kelly's voice trembles in its grittiness, reaching gospel-tinged poignancy, the longing in his singing apparent. "I've stood by waiting for years now," he sings earnestly, disappointment permeating the cracks of his voice. The suddenness of the track's ending makes it all the more meaningful; it's the best example of what Kelly is capable of even without his guitar.
The repetitive, driving force of Spirit Bound Flesh is what makes it so haunting. Hypnotic in its approach, the album leaves a sense of surprise when it ends, as it only feels like a few minutes have passed since "I Don't Feel You Anymore" started. The only solution is to go back and listen again, letting Kelly's endearingly gruff vocals and moody guitar work their magic - to envelope, warm, cleanse.
Soothe the spirit.