The harbingers of the so-called "post-metal" postulate were riding fairly high on creative wings after Neurosis tossed away the punk theme and shifted into one of the most radical and bloodcurdling identities ever documented. The multi-layered facet that included sludge, tribal elements and dark ambient could only scratch the surface of Neurosis' subconscious, and the group was enjoying a stint of consistent, otherworldly albums which redefined much of what metal was conceived to be by the time of "Sovereign." The small release (by Neurosis standards, anyway) features just a few tracks that pasteurize the agonizing thoughts and feelings created by Scott Kelly and the remaining members of this esoteric faction with the typical Neurosis mediums of depravity and perplexing cataclysm, although the overall content is a little lacking compared to the usual Neurosis output.
The provided songs function in the same sludgy atmosphere that Neurosis has eroded throughout their career, maybe dancing around an edge of minimalism or a perceived sense of something digestible, maybe even a little meditative. The opening "Prayer" summons seven minutes of corrosive guitar work nodding in and out of a hypnotic rhythm underneath tribal percussion, and the cut simply slithers in and out of a number of passages that flow in the same spectrum of sound. Overall not a bad tune. This blueprint is pretty much what the other tracks follow, albeit at different levels of content compared to the attractive opener. "An Offering," for instance, is a fatigued number compared to the other tunes; there's just not a pinnacle moment during "An Offering" that makes the listener gawk at the perceived product.
The title track, however, circles back to the success of "Prayer" with over ten minutes of neuroticism, whipping through acidic sections of redefined post-rock, crushing sludge, bombastic vocals and the usual experimental strangeness of Neurosis, all packaged neatly and ready to go. A good song, but it's quite a fragile piece compared to other epics like "To Crawl Under One's Skin" or "Purify" which trend through an array of emotions and colors, and that unnamable process has minimal impact on "Sovereign" and its collage of tunes. The instrumental "Flood" works as a cool transition between songs, but again, the extra nudge of power isn't as mighty.
The essentials are there, the writing sticks, the performances are tight and electric, but the threshold of brilliance is only slashed by the impending assault instead of blown to smithereens. "Sovereign" is an acceptable product that fully deserves the label of Neurosis despite the minor inconsistencies and general deflation inside of the EP, and overall it idles passively on what it is and what it demonstrates.
However, Sovereign has some glimmers of unobtrusive brilliance on occasion, and scenes of sheer power shine into the band like a sun that never sets. "Sovereign" should not be a starting place for the herd of unexposed listeners, yet the EP still adds another interesting perspective into the world of Neurosis, and one most fans should definitely investigate.