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's 13-year existence -- a decade with Von Till -- the pummeling San Francisco-based band has cut a swath through musical genres to create an unparalleled collage of metal, industrial, punk, crustcore, and Gothic overtures. So, while it may seem uncharacteristic for the guitarist to issue a delicate solo album, As the Crow Flies is as intense, droning, and downright heavy as Von Till's work with Neurosis. The only difference is the means of deployment.
"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. 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. Although this 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's wake.