This is to archive my metal trilogy and go back to more familiar ground. My attempt to cover some heavy stuff on liveon35mm ends in (un)fashion.
If I struggled to write something about Motorhead (speed-metal?), and suffered to finish a post on Anthrax (thrash-metal?), to conclude I left this space for Neurosis (post-metal?). A band well beyond my writer capability. More than ever, consider this post just some words to separate a gallery of live shots.
Let’s start from the psychology (courtesy of Wikipedia)
“Neurosis is a class of functional mental disorders involving distress but neither delusions nor hallucinations, whereby behaviour is not outside socially acceptable norms. The term essentially describes an “invisible injury” and the resulting condition
Neurosis represents a variety of mental disorders in which emotional distress or unconscious conflict is expressed through various physical, physiological, and mental disturbances, which may include physical symptoms. The definitive symptom is anxieties.”
Carl Jung found his approach particularly fitting for people who are successfully adjusted by normal social standards, but who nevertheless have issues with the meaning of their life.
“I have frequently seen people become neurotic when they content themselves with inadequate or wrong answers to the questions of life.” (Jung,  1989:140)
“The majority of my patients consisted not of believers but of those who had lost their faith.” (Jung,  1989:140)
“[Contemporary man] is blind to the fact that, with all his rationality and efficiency, he is possessed by “powers” that are beyond his control. His gods and demons have not disappeared at all; they have merely got new names. They keep him on the run with restlessness, vague apprehensions, psychological complications, an insatiable need for pills, alcohol, tobacco, food – and, above all, a large array of neuroses.” (Jung, 1964:82)
I photographed Neurosis twice.
In 2010 they were invited by Godspeed You! Black Emperor to play a Minehead Night Before Christmas ATP festival.
In 2012 they have been invited by Shellac to play another Nightmare Before Christmas ATP festival. In Camber Sands.
Both times I had nightmares after the shows (and before Christmases) so for the position they had been paid, they delivered.
On the good side there is a double set of photos, two years apart, most of them never before seen outside my Hard Disk.
They are a mix of colourful, desaturated and B&W to overcome the blue darkness of a typical Neurosis’ light setting.
Formed in Oakland, California almost 30 years ago, with a debut album dated 1987, Pain of Mind, it’s a great title for a debut by a band called Neurosis. Nevertheless I didn’t know its existence till recent times and I bet very few did, especially in Rome at the end of the eighties.
The ten studio albums that followed reinforced Neurosis spaceship, that carried on travelling through the heavy metal galaxy.
The breakthrough (read I heard of Neurosis for the first time, despite still didn’t attempt a listen) was in 1999 when Steve Albini recorded Times of Grave. He will be behind the mixer for five more Neurosis’ albums until the latest, Honor Found in Decay, out this year.
The evolutions of metal music mimics a space odyssey towards outer, unknown spaces (of the mind).
Do this experiment. Start from, say, Black Sabbath then listen to a hour or so of metal, progressing through the years and the key band, to arrive to the latest most extreme. Once there, go back to a song by Ozzy and the Sabbath. He would sound like an unplugged, acoustic band.
Differently from other rock genres, Heavy Metal function isn’t an up and down sinusoidal reflecting the mood of the times. Heavy Metal parabola mimics the trajectory of those missiles aiming to defeat the G-Force and point far.
I don’t know what faction of metal music Neurosis belong. Doom? Industrial? Post? I struggle with rock genres in general, it’s impossible to me to navigate metal subgenres.
That a concert by Neurosis is about to happen is easy to guess by the kind of people that gather around the stage.
They belong to a unique tribe, one of the many sub-tribes of metal music. As Motorhead, ACDC, or Slayer have. T-Shirts and accessories are full of symbols that all the devotees know very well and the rest of the world ignores, to their pleasure.
The gender ratio is highly disproportionate towards a male audience, as typically happens when on stage the sound transmit power, aggression, rage.
My organic chemistry professor at university, many years ago, taught a very wise approach to face the unknown. “When you find yourself in front of something that you don’t understand” he said, “don’t try to interpret it, limit to describe”. I always follow this suggestion.
Neurosis is a 5 member band. There are two guitarists, both tattooed and bearded in the classic heavy metal look that mirrors the disciples in the front. The bass player has the most uncool, yet interesting haircut, henna dyed. I saw something similar for the last time in a middle age man bathing in the Gange during the Kumbh Mela in Haridwar, India.
There’s a keyboardist, the latest addition to the line-up, and the big drummer responsible to keep the heaviness high throughout.
A Neurosis “song” (tune? piece? track? Composition?) is easily structured. It usually begins quietly and instrumentally, with a guitar riff or an arpeggio recalling a melody. It gives a sensation of easiness that is cleverly there to increase the consequent feeling of displacement that arrives when the band U-turns exploding in an overdrive of guitars at un unbearable volume, accompanied by the scariest of growls provided by the ogre/singer. There to revive you memories of the fairy tales that used to scare you in your childhood.
There are some lyrics but I didn’t go beyond reading the first I found on google from Through Silver in Blood. They are enough, I still prefer Edgar Allan Poe.
Therapeutic to the band and the entire audience is to follow the rhythm of the music with the movement of the head, as if it is banging onto a wall in front.
“Headbangers” for a reason. I must admit it is quite addictive. I find impossible to stand in front of this music and not headbanging myself.
Scroll down, I’ll tell you more about this in the photo tip.
The violence of the set is not punitive the same way Swans, to cite a band that clearly influences them, is.
Michael Gira uses Swans’ music to mistreat and beat (yeah, kind of virtually) the audience for 3 hours taking the band along unexpected directions just to increase the unpredictability and the discomfort of an audience that, before the gig, believed to be mentally fine. The Swans’ audience will leave the venue to be disoriented for at least the following 48 hours.
Neurosis are much more predictable in the “song” structure. It is like they are aware of an audience that knows to not be perfectly fine and is after their music to relieve the anxiety deriving from some neurosis.
Where neurosis in medical term is a disorder, Neurosis in music term is the cure. 90 minutes of methodical, reproducible, brutal loops must be relieving for some class of anxieties as much as hours of speech therapy with a Jungian psychoanalyst.
It may be because it was both time at the end of an endless day of music at a Festival, or my defence mechanism refusing the therapy, I admit both times I couldn’t get to the end of a Neurosis show. Because I got bored.
Concert Photography is quite repetitive. After shooting a couple of hundreds bands (I’m three times that number now) I realised to have covered most of the concert situations.
I also start seeing most of (my) photos quite samey. Many photographers I know stop around this point and give-up live music for something different and potentially more remunerative.
I started questioning what could be done to push my style and to depict, not just another band, but the characteristic of the band I have in front of me.
Let’s remember there is no intervention by the photographer in a live concert, you got to survive with what you have. Everyone, from the band to the managers, from the light technicians to the security, know that photographers are there, yet no one works to help us.
Sometime they provide good lights and stage setting that complement the music, some other they are just there for the band. You never know in advanca, unless you browse youtube for some amatorial cellphones video to have and idea.
Headbanging is a classic features of heavy metal concerts. The heads of the band members, moves up and down in an undulatory movement following the beat. It is sustained by a precise pose, one leg ahead, one back, to support the energy (to not fall, basically). It is very easy to record on video, as this.
More complicate to do photographically… but…. doable.
How good are you at keeping your camera steady without hands shaking?
Set a very slow shutter, I tried few options between 1/4 and 1/30 of a second, and give it a try.
I noticed that the only thing that moves during headbanging is the musicians’ head. With a proper shutter time I thought it was possible to have a (reasonably) sharp figure coupled with a totally blurred head.
There’s also a plus, the longer exposure allows to stop down the aperture and use a lower ISO.
~ by Valerio on December 14, 2012.
Posted in concert, digital, Festival, Hard and Heavy, live, music, past, photography, USA
Tags: 2010, 2012, Albini, ATP, band, California, doom, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, heavy, Honor Found in Decay, industrial, live, metal, Neurosis, post, rock, shellac