Review Summary: Despite being a somewhat underrated album, "Times of Grace" shows Neurosis expand on previous releases, and at the same time lay the base for following albums.
In 1996 post-metal behemoths Neurosis released "Through Silver in Blood", an album that is considered by many to be their best work. The sound was crushingly heavy, eerily ambient, yet seemed to flow perfectly. Now fast forward to 2005's "The Eye of Every Storm", which saw Neurosis become more experimental and more "toned down". The album was well executed, but surely some fans didn’t like the post-rock influenced album (I personally think it is just as good as any other Neurosis album). Now lets go back again to 1999's "Times of Grace".
The first thing you notice about this album is the production, where "Through Silver In Blood" was produced in a way that created a rough sound, which added to the overall impact of the album, the production on this album is much cleaner. Don’t be Mistaken however, one listen to opener "The Doorway" and its main riff (something rare for Neurosis) and you realize that by no means is this album any easier on the ears than the previous release. Both Scott Kelly and Steve Von Till deliver their signature vocals, yet on some tracks such as "Away" or "End of the Harvest", Von Till actually sings, something seen in "Strength of Fates" on "Through Silver in Blood". Despite not being used that frequently on this album, the clean vocals become more prominent on later releases.
Throughout the album, the listener is taken on a sonic journey, from quiet, almost hypnotizing tracks such as "Away", to songs that build up to a climax like "End Of The Harvest", and others that stop half way for an ambient passage, best displayed on "Under The Surface", a standout track. be warned however, this is not an album where songs can be listened to individually, the album must be experienced as a whole, where interludes such as "Exist" can serve as either moments of respite, or introductions to other songs. There is no song that makes the listener question its necessity within the album, even if “The Last You’ll Know” does drag on a bit, but small flaws is easily forgotten due to the quality of the album.
The instrumentation is the same as in any other Neurosis album, there aren’t playing to show off; they are simply playing in order to create the desired effect. Guitars and Bass play heavy, down tuned riffs, while the drums switch from pounding tribal beats to spacey rhythms. The bass, unlike many other bands, is actually audible during many passages, as seen in "Belief". Bassist Dave Edwardson also provides growling vocals on many of the songs such as the title track and "End of the Harvest". If I’m not mistaken, I believe that this is the last album to feature his vocals, which I personally miss on later releases.
Lyrically, Neurosis continues to write songs about unconventional topics. Don’t expect political commentaries here or love songs. Lyrics can be interpreted in different ways, but they usually involve earthly subjects, or topics to do with man's more primitive side. They obviously suit the music, as it is quite a primitive sound, yet at the same time are complex and layered with sounds and effects. The Album ends perfectly with an instrumental titled "The Road to Sovereignty", which provides a welcome respite from the intensity of the title track, which may remind fans of "Locust Star" from "Through Silver In Blood".
I find that "Times of Grace" is a rather underrated album, as it is seen as "The one before "A Sun that Never Sets", where the experimentation is much more pronounced. However, as with any album by Neurosis, it takes time to sink in, and once digested, this album is definitely up to standards set by "Through Silver in Blood", if it doesn't exceed them. Fans of the band who have enjoyed their other works should listen to this album, as it shows the transition to a more experimental sound, yet at the same time shows how comfortable Neurosis are with their sound.