From the slowest, most spacious sludge to fast and furious tempos of speed-metal, the polar extremes of metal have long been set. The most interesting contemporary metal acts, then, are those that have found a way to creatively navigate the relatively narrow range of distorted riffs and pummeling drums that lies between the two extremes. San Francisco's Neurosis rose out of the Bay Area hardcore scene, but the group has gradually developed into something else entirely, and the new Times Of Grace finds it matching the usual growled vocals and grinding guitars with ambient fragments, novel guitar tones, and suitably subtle synths. A lot of the album's excellence can be credited to engineer Steve Albini, whose trademark no-frills wallop is used to almost unprecedented effectiveness: The recording all but explodes out of the speakers, and unlike many metal albums, it even has a low end. But it's Neurosis that obviously spent so much time working on the album's labyrinthine arrangements and epic songs, and those elements are what separate it from the pack. In about a month, Neurosis' more experimental alter ego, Tribes Of Neurot, will release Grace, which is meant to compliment Times Of Grace; apparently, the two albums are aligned in dynamics and instrumentation so as to enhance the listening experience when played simultaneously. It's an ambitious experiment more aligned with The Flaming Lips' Zaireeka than the efforts of most metal acts, but if any group has the skill and drive to pull it off, it's Neurosis.
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