It’s been twenty years since the release of the Neurosis album Times Of Grace, and I confess that I still think of it as the “new” Neurosis album. I’ll start by saying that Times of Grace is a great album – full of the kind of sludge and metal you can only hope that makes it to your headphones regularly. It’s a masterpiece of subtle production and nuance brought to life by the studio genius of alterna-producer Steve Albini. In short, it’s the musical equivalent of a brick wall with lace borders that needs to be rendered on a sonic canvas using a good set of headphones or speakers and played very loudly. And paired with the companion ambient soundscape (from Neurosis’ side project) Tribes of Neurot’s Grace, Times of Grace is a cool heavy music art concept too.
Ok, love fest over. This album drove me nuts twenty years ago. Like I mentioned, the goal here was to be able to play it at the same time as its sister album, Grace. If you were able to do that in some coherent manner that generally synced the albums, the results were awesome. If you (like me in 1999) had consumed several bottles of your favorite malt beverage and god knows what else, it was difficult, and I for one could never get close! The real issue was that I didn’t have the stereo setup to mix the two albums so that they sounded right. Of course, in 2019 this is easily done on a computer and versions of the mix can be found by doing a quick search on your favorite web portal. But standing alone, I don’t think Times of Grace deserves the respect it gets twenty years later. I love Neurosis, but I think Through Silver In Blood (the “old” Neurosis album) is a brilliant dynamic record. The drums on that album are among my favorite recorded in metal. I don’t think Times of Grace is nearly as good. The thing on this record that makes it a real treat is the subtleties of the production that render an incredibly layered album even without the paired recording.
Steve Albini is worshiped for his work on this album. With the opening track “Suspended in the Light,” it’s clear that production is king. This little soundscape sets the tone for the latter half of the album. Track two “The Doorway” crushes with Neurosis in full attack mode. I feel like they did some things with the crash cymbals here that was different than their previous releases. It’s more reminiscent of their older sound. Track three, “Under The Surface” pulls some groove out of the industrial toolbox. Again the production is king here, and I’d like to get a little bit less of it because when the second guitar comes in, the sound is fantastic. But all-in-all, I think Albini reached too high on this album because although it’s exceptional, it just doesn’t evoke the same aggression that its predecessor does.
I wanted to write a negative review after no short of five full listens on my car stereo and computer speakers at work. At first, I found it to be flat and one dimensional. But then I pulled it up on some larger speakers at home and turned up the volume. What I heard and what came to light on my final listen on bigger and better speakers, was an album of studio magic and nuance that is pretty wonderful. The highlight here is “End of the Harvest,” a brilliant post-metal assault that cranks up the sonic dynamics to unveil some serious metal. The latter half of the album is interesting and deserves a lot of credit for how good a release this is. Even as I sit writing and listening to this, my perception of this album is evolving.
Twenty years later, this album is still driving me nuts. I suppose that is the mark of great art; it causes great reflection. I haven’t listened to Neurosis in a long time and have enjoyed thoroughly re-exploring the majesty of bagpipes and sludge, but I would be lying if this whole process hasn’t brought me closer to its predecessor Through Silver and Blood. That said, give this album a listen on its anniversary and see where it brings you.
Times of Grace was released on May 4th, 1999 via Relapse Records.