Review Summary: It's not post metal but the remastered version of Neurosis' criminally underrated sophomore album is still worth your time.
Neurosis are well-known as one of the originators of the post metal sound, but that wasn’t always the case. In the beginning they were simply a metallic hardcore band trying to find their own sound, and it led to four drastically different releases. Their first stylistic change came with the release of their sophomore album, The Word As Law
. The Word As Law
still had a hardcore soul, but it also evolved the band into multifaceted artists with a propensity to go off on musical tangents with more than a little progressive influence. It was the album to first display Neurosis’ love of oppressive atmospheres, slow builds, dark tones, and crushing crescendos. In order to support this, the songs grew longer and more complex, and their first legitimate use of dynamics came into play – but post metal this was not. Instead, Neurosis had taken the metallic hardcore of their debut and incorporated a multitude of progressive elements, as well as an embryo of moody ambience. If there was one problem with the original release, it was the production. While not terrible by any means, The Word As Law
’s sound was always a little bit too muddy for the performances on display.
On the original release, the guitars felt buried under the bass, the percussion lacked bite, and the bass guitar lacked the sharp tone it deserved. With the remastered release, those problems have been significantly improved. This has opened up individual players to the attention they originally deserved. This is nowhere more apparent than the frantic performances from the rhythm section. Given how low key they are these days, it might be odd to learn that the most progressive aspects of The Word As Law
come from the excellent rhythm section. On the original release, the production kind of blended everything together but now it is easy to hear the bass player as he basically dominates every song with runs and rhythms that the percussion (and its punchier sound) augments perfectly with its busy arrangements. The progressive elements extend to the song construction, as well. The songs twist and turn through varying tempos, atmospheres and textures (just like now), but on The Word As Law
the crescendos take only seconds to build as opposed to the steady, deliberate, excursion we’re all used to today.
Only two years after this album Neurosis would release Souls at Zero
and really begin their transition towards post metal, but that doesn’t mean that The Word as Law is disposable. In its original form it was definitely a little raw around the edges, and it’s certainly more straight-forward than anything they’ve done since, but it’s still an essential listen – especially now that it has been remastered. The Word as Law
is the only album where the band really wear their progressive influences on their sleeve, especially through the creative rhythm work. After this point, the band would slowly delve into huge layers of sound that placed the bigger picture over individual performances, so it’s nice to have at least one album where the individual players can still be recognized. Basically, don’t go into this expecting a post metal release. Approach this album as an enjoyable history lesson where you’re treated to the bare-bones roots & foundation of a band that would quickly move on to bigger things – now featuring an improved sound.