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Steve Von Till 

As the Crow Flies
(Neurot Recordings)

Wednesday, Jul 5 2000
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Heavy music is seldom associated with acoustic guitars and sparse piano, but on the solo debut by Neurosis vocalist and guitarist Steve Von Till, instruments and song styles typically dominated by simpering two-dimensional coffeehouse crooners are craftily enlisted to create an album of sonic depth and complex musical contradictions. In Neurosis' 13-year existence -- a decade with Von Till -- the pummeling Bay Area band has cut a swath through musical genres to create an unparalleled collage of metal, industrial, punk, crustcore, and gothic overtures. The band's name and image have become synonymous with erudite heavy guitar rock. So, while it may seem uncharacteristic for the guitarist to issue a delicate solo album, As the Crow Flies is equally as intense, droning, and downright heavy as Von Till's work with Neurosis. The only difference is the means of deployment.

From 1996 through 1999, Von Till wrote and recorded songs at home during time off from his busy schedule of touring and recording with Neurosis and the group's rhythmic-ambient alter ego, Tribes of Neurot. Von Till's resulting album is similar to the suffocating intensity of Nick Drake's Pink Moon, on which the self-destructive '60s folk legend's desperation for release and relief seeps through the cracks of the music's intended vulnerability and joy. Both albums deliver a sound filled with mixed emotions -- not simply tugging at heartstrings. "Stained Glass" opens Von Till's seven-song album with a winding, looping acoustic guitar line punctuated by single piano keys accenting the beginning of each measure as he rasps a paean of devotion; Kris Force's violin and Jackie Gratz's cello add subtle and faint layers to the slithering track. Without benefit of additional instruments, "We All Fall" emphasizes the strength of Von Till's rumbling, yet delicate, baritone as he sings over a droning acoustic guitar phrase. A delay-drenched electric guitar line leads the rhythm to "Remember," while Von Till plucks a waltz-time acoustic arpeggio. His vocals overlap in a round as one voice sings, "Dream through the seasons/ Only to remember/ Past becomes the future/ When all is said and done," and the other voice repeats the mantra line, "Your life awaits you."

Although this solo debut by a member of the behemoth operatic guitar collective Neurosis is a surprisingly sparse and subtle acoustic album, there's no wispy singer/songwriter fare herein. On the contrary, As the Crow Flies is in many ways heavier and more intense than much of the music by bands that have followed in Neurosis' wake.

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Dave Clifford

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