In late 1985, Scott Kelly, Dave Edwardson, and Jason Roeder, formerly members of Violent Coercion, founded Neurosis as a hardcore punk outfit, inspired also by British crust punk in the vein of Amebix and Crass.
In 1986 Chad Salter was added on second guitar and vocals. There have only been a few changes in the lineup of Neurosis' musicians since band's inception. In 1989 guitarist/vocalist Chad Salter was replaced by Steve Von Till, who previously played in bands Transgressor, Peace Test and Tribe of Resistance, and in 1990, Simon McIlroy joined the band as a synthesizer/sampler with Adam Kendall as visual artist (Adam and Simon have been friends since they were teenagers and they were doing a lot of experimental music together before). In 1995 Noah Landis, a childhood friend of Dave Edwardson, replaced Simon McIlroy as keyboardist.
With The Word as Law, Neurosis began to transition from the hardcore punk of Pain of Mind to the more experimental sound of Souls at Zero, which would ultimately form the basis for post-metal and atmospheric sludge metal. Neurosis' signature sound came into full force with Enemy of the Sun, with The Quietus observing that "at the time few could have predicted this black hole of agonizingly precise metal riffs, unnerving backmasking, industrial folkisms and extensive sampling".
In 1996, Neurosis attracted mainstream attention with its Relapse Records debut, Through Silver in Blood and subsequent tour with Pantera. In 1999, Neurosis released Times of Grace, which was designed to be played synchronously with Grace, an album released by Neurosis' ambient side project, Tribes of Neurot.
In the early 2000s, the band founded their own independent record label, Neurot Recordings, which, in addition to releasing material from Neurosis and its associated projects, signed several other artists.
Beginning with A Sun That Never Sets, Neurosis began incorporating clean vocals and acoustic instrumentation with a growing folk music influence, more noted presence of classical string instruments (which had been used sparsely since Souls At Zero) as well as slower tempos and a more contemplative sound. Allmusic described this change as an "aesthetic sea change". 2004's The Eye of Every Storm expanded upon this change by incorporating more ambient textures into the mix and presenting a softer post-rock oriented sound.
The band released their ninth studio album Given to the Rising on May 8, 2007 through Neurot Records. On this album Neurosis re-incorporated a more aggressive approach into their music once again, and the album was well received by critics.
The band entered the studio in December 2011 to record the follow-up to Given to the Rising. The new album, entitled Honor Found in Decay, was released in late October 2012.
The band performed at Roadburn 2016, with Brooklyn Vegan's Ian Cory writing that "once the house lights came up it was hard to justify watching anything else." This was part of their series of shows performed in celebration of their 30th anniversary as a band.
On May 5, 2016 relapse Records confirmed they were reissuing A Sun That Never Sets and The Eye of Every Storm on vinyl on June 17 with new artwork.
On August 1, 2016 the band released a teaser trailer for their upcoming album online. Their eleventh studio album, titled Fires Within Fires, was released on September 23, 2016.
From 1990 to 1993, Adam G. Kendall was recruited to create visuals and perform live with the band. Following his departure from touring, Pete Inc. took over the job, although Kendall continued to contribute visuals for the band until as late as 1997. Kendall also shot the footage for the "Locust Star" video.
Josh Graham took over live visuals in early 2000 as Pete wasn't "cutting the mustard" (in the words of Steve Von Till), and created album artwork for 2004's The Eye of Every Storm, 2007's Given to the Rising, and 2012's Honor Found in Decay, as well as re-designs for the reissues of Souls at Zero and Enemy of the Sun. Graham and Neurosis amicably parted ways in late November 2012 via an announcement on the band website. He was not replaced and the band ceased to use live visual media.
Often experimental and psychedelic in nature, Neurosis' visual media have added to the reputation of their live performances. Many of the visuals for their tours supporting Through Silver in Blood are taken from Ken Russell's film Altered States. Other images are included in the enhanced portion of the Sovereign E.P, and on the A Sun That Never Sets DVD video release. The majority of the DVD release was directed by Graham, with an additional video by Chad Rullman.
Neurosis emerged as a hardcore punk band, performing a blend of hardcore and heavy metal inspired by British punk and described as crust punk or crossover. However, their second album The Word as Law (1990), introduced some elements of avant-garde music and sludge metal, a genre which was emerging as a fusion of hardcore and doom metal. Thereafter, the band developed a unique sound; Greg Moffitt of the BBC wrote that through a "process of evolution and refinement" beginning with Souls at Zero (1992) and culminating in Through Silver in Blood (1996), they "[took] heavy music to previously unimaginable spaces and, in the process, shape[d] what has thus far been metal's definitive response to the 21st century."
The style Neurosis pioneered has been named post-metal, characterised by an "expansive, progressive and often apocalyptic" sound"adding alien sounds, oddball instrumentation and atmospheric depth to [the] viscerally crushing approach" of sludge metal. The band's sound has also been described as experimental/avant-garde metal, doom metal, post-hardcore, industrial metal, drone metal, stoner metal, psychedelic metal, progressive metal, alternative metal and extreme metal, and as employing elements of folk. Steve Huey of AllMusic called it as a blend of industrial, metal, and alternative rock rooted in sludge metal, while Kory Grow of Rolling Stone called it a mix of "metal, punk, sludge and avant-garde experiments."
When asked what the band's influences are in a 2000 interview, Scott Kelly stated: "Mainly ourselves at this point, but our foundation ranges through Black Flag, Pink Floyd, Die Kreuzen, Amebix, Jimi Hendrix, King Crimson, The Melvins, Celtic Frost and, of course, Hank Williams." In 2007, Steve Von Till stated that lyrically he and Kelly are inspired by literature, alluding to writers such as Cormac McCarthy, Jack London, and Paul Bowles.