Isis

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The Red Sea EP

Isis - The Red Sea EP ©1999 Second Nature Recordings
1. Carmicarmicarmicat Shines To Earth
2. The Minus Times
3. Red Sea
4. Smiles And Handshakes
5. Catalyst
6. Ochre
7. Lines Across Eyes

In their developmental phase, Isis was an extremely thunderous, heavy, laboring band that exorcised various demons of hardcore, sludge metal, art-rock ala` Neurosis and a good old fashioned kick in the face with a steel toed workboot. Although the band hadn't gotten around to really working intricacies into their abrasive core sound, hints and suggestions of future sounds exist within the howling walls of music.

The CD version of The Red Sea that is currently available pairs the EP with a 1998 demo. The three tracks that make up The Red Sea are incredibly dense, monolithic statements of pure aggression and destruction. It's sort of like wading through wet concrete that is rapidly drying. The vocals are pushed back in the mix, making their presence more like a slight afterthought, but still a necessary element to their sound. For the most part, the assault is relentless and devastating in a very good way. Despite not containing the profound dynamics of later releases, these three tracks are still quite enjoyable.

The four songs from the 1998 demo are a fine bonus indeed. For the wary, the quality is essentially the same as any regular studio released and hardly anything "demo" about it. The production isn't quite as towering as The Red Sea, but the songs are as well developed as the EP. The cross between their dense wall of hardcore and artsy hints isn't strongly projected, but one can sense the band is onto something.

The Red Sea is a good piece of work either to introduce one to the band or to learn more about their evolution. The bonus tracks fill out the CD to close to forty minute of music, none of which allows you to relent and relax. Use this CD to destroy any Oasis-playing party and watch small buildings collapse.

Review by John Chedsey

Review date: 01/2003

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Celestial

Isis - Celestial ©2000 Escape Artist Records
1. SGNL01
2. Celestial (the Tower)
3. Glisten
4. Swarm Reigns Down
5. SGNL02
6. Deconstructing Towers
7. SGNL03
8. Collapse And Crush
9. C.F.T. (New Circuitry And Continued Evolution)
10. Gentle Time
11. SGNL04

After a series of early EPs and demos, Isis finally set themselves down long enough to record a massive, full length CD called Celestial. Undeniably crushing and driven with the impetus of bulldozers being driven at seventy miles an hour (construction management majors, this is your notice to not email about the impossibilities of this), Celestial is the type of album that demands you crank up the volume and let the intricate riffing completely shred your inside organs and even your pianos, too. However, since life is not meant to be lived in entirely one idiom, Isis shows the world that they finally were mastering the art of heavy and crushing meeting the intriguing atmospheric noodling that has characterized their work for quite some time.

The most impressive thing about Celestial is the perfectly appropriate production that gives the band massive power while not sacrificing the instruments' individual clarity. The sheer density of guitar tones is enough to make a pulsar star stop and say, "Wow, that's some heavy stuff, pilgrim." The heavy sections are given marching orders and plunder along with the grim resolve of soldiers being ordered to level a village. It just so happens to be the village you live in, with your bedroom being the main target. Despite the weaving of atmospheric passages, Isis still manages to be completely devastating throughout the CD. Hardcore may have turned into a "bro-hymn", metalized caricature of itself, but Isis proves there is art to be found in the style.

If nothing else, fans of unusual riffs will find Isis to be appealing. Celestial is a powerful journey of some of the most truly heavy music you may ever experience. And it's an entirely impressive full length from one of the most promising acts of our time.

Review by John Chedsey

Review date: 02/2003

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SGNL 05 EP

Isis - SGNL  05 EP ©2001 Neurot Recordings
1. Sgnl>05 (Final Transmission)
2. Divine Mother (The Tower Crumbles)
3. Beneath Below
4. Constructing Towers
5. Celestial (Signal Fills The Void)

Bridging the way from a dense, crushing, staggering wall of guitar anger towards a more layered, theatrical and moving tapestry of intensity, Sgnl>05 is an intriguing EP that only enhances the evolutionary path of Isis. While still retaining the foundation set forth on early EPs, this EP adds in a bit more ambience and expands the structure initially created by the band. The EP moves beyond simply unrelenting into a more dynamic creature.

The most notable thing about Sgnl>05 is how well the band's ability to create eyebrow raising riffs while still pushing the edge of intensity. The band also has the ability to know how to intertwine softer, atmospheric passages with the dense pulsar matter of their signature sound. "Divine Mother (The Tower Crumbles)" is a fine example of moving back and forth in an effortless partten. "Beneath Below" is a more experimental piece relying on electronics and bubbling texture on an ambient soundscape. The final track is an impressive remix of "Celestial (Signal Fills the Void)" by Godflesh's Justin Broadrick.

Sgnl>05 is somewhat brief in length but entirely necessary for travelling along the musical path of Isis. Every song here has some element or aspect that should make any discriminating listener perk up with keen attention. This is the sort of finely honed musical aggression and beauty that so many strive for and few attain.

Review by John Chedsey

Review date: 02/2003

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Oceanic

Isis - Oceanic ©2002 Ipecac Recordings
1. The Beginning And The End
2. The Other
3. False Light
4. Carry
5. -
6. Maritime
7. Weight
8. From Sinking
9. Hym

Most every extreme music fan is at least partially familiar with Neurosis, enough to know their brand of crushing dense music is both beautiful and relentless. And certainly those who appreciate their music will occasionally wish there was a more cuddly, scratch-under-the-chin version that could be taken home and held all night by the fireplace. It turns out that Aaron Turner, the head of Hydrahead records, has a band called Isis that fits the bill perfectly.

Now on their second full length release, Isis has come up with a monster of an album in Oceanic, possibly the type of album that will ultimately be known as a watershed release for the band. Taking cues from the Neurosis school of bludgeoning listeners with a wall of highly articulated guitar and distortion noise, Isis refines the ballistics into a nearly-orchestrated crusade of atmospherics meeting pure fury. Although Isis revels in their heavier moments, it is the softer, introspective sections of this record that truly make Oceanic compelling. The interplay between guitar, bass and drums occasionally reminds me of Fugazi's later years, although drenched in more sonic force than that DC entity. The vocals are straight out of Neurosis' realm of lung shredding, deliberately tuneless yelling and have that same isolated, alien quality that Ministry had on The Mind is a Terrible Thing to Taste. The songs are all lengthy, sculptured works that rely on builds, slowly evolving climaxes and a considerable amount of brilliant interplay between the instruments. With the vocals, when they do rarely appear, being pressed back a bit in the mix, the overall production is both thick and concise, allowing an amazing amount of clarity. This of course only helps enhance the point Isis is attempting to get across.

Oceanic is a considerably impressive album, a masterpiece of epic proportions for the style. Neurosis has always danced around a truly mindblowing album, at least for my ears, but Isis has nailed it right on the head with their keen ability to ease up on the crushing aspects and allow for a perfect amount of atmospherics. Isis cannot be considered a clone of Neurosis, but rather a partner in sonic terrorism. Throw away your silly Manowar records and discover for yourself what a truly heaving, mind leveling, yet beautiful record is all about.

Review by John Chedsey

Review date: 10/2002

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Live 1

Isis - Live 1 ©2004 Hydrahead
1. Carry
2. Hym
3. Weight
4. The Beginning and the End

The world of bootlegging live shows has changed dramatically over the past ten years. Once upon a time, the only way to get an illicit live recording was by paying stupid amounts of money for a bootleg CD or record. And more often than not, serious buyer's remorse set in once one realized the sound quality was usually cruddy and the band never saw one red cent from the sale. However, with the advent of MP3s and file sharing, the bootleg industry has fallen apart as fans are now able to swap live shows recorded on a variety of different devices. Moreover, many bands are happily endorsing this new technology since no one is charging anyone for bootlegged shows. The worst case scenario is that the sound quality stinks and the files get deleted. What's a little bandwidth, anyhow?

Isis, meanwhile, has committed a blunder with their first live release, cleverly entitled Live 1. The band was recorded by a fan at a 2003 San Francisco show and the quality indeed comes across as a bootleg. Although the band's performance sounds dead on, the overall quality is substandard due to the recording. One can hear snippets of folks chatting in the audience and the music feels muddy. Moreover, apparently the individual who recorded the show didn't get the entire set, so it's an incomplete show. Although I've heard far worse bootlegs in my day, Live 1 strikes me as something best left to the file sharing crowd, not something to be released as a commercial product.

Unless you have a lot of money to burn, this is best left to the completists.

Review by John Chedsey

Review date: 03/2008

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Panopticon

Isis - Panopticon ©2004 Ipecac Recordings
1. So Did We
2. Backlit
3. In Fiction
4. Wills Dissolve
5. Syndic Calls
6. Altered Course
7. Grinning Mouths

With the advent of Oceanic in 2002, Isis established themselves, at least within the confines of my underground nuclear weapon proofed bunker, as one of the few truly astounding acts currently recording music. Oceanic was an instant ear grabber and still does not fail to capture my full attention upon any given listen. But the real trick for Isis, one that I'm sure was thoroughly on their minds, was following up Oceanic with something equally as impressive and expansive. One can only imagine the members of Isis in their practice room saying to one another, "Do you think this riff will impress the guy at Satan Stole My Teddybear?"

I am grateful to report that with the release of Panopticon, Isis has rolled out yet another album's worth of truly remarkable material. Aaron Turner and company have discovered a rather large deposit of material within their creative mountains that can be mined for quite some time. Panopticon essentially takes a long gaze at the latter half of Oceanic and simply extends their musical journey from that point. As with the last album, Isis wanders the path of extended song structure, large breathing riffs and intense introspective moods.

While descriptions about Panopticon may end up that painfully pretentious, this CD is actually remarkably simple when one thinks about it. Panopticon is another impressively powerful journey that does not reinvent Isis; this was a makeover that was unnecessary as the band has found something all their own that they can work with and continue finding songs within that field. Moreover, it will be the godsend for every music journalist out there as they can work their pretentious, bloated descriptions to the max.

Review by John Chedsey

Review date: 12/2004

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In the Absence of Truth

Isis - In the Absence of Truth ©2006 Ipecac
1. Wrists of Kings
2. Not in Rivers, But in Drops
3. Dulcinea
4. Over Root and Thorn
5. 1,000 Shards
6. All Out of Time, All Into Space
7. Holy Tears
8. Firdous E Bareen
9. Garden of Light

Isis' stature and reputation did nothing but rise throughout the 2000s and deservedly so. Between Celestial, Oceanic and Panopticon, Isis managed to establish themselves as one of the more visionary hybrid rock/metal acts around, bringing the style of "atmospheric sludge" to the masses. In 2006 they released In the Absence of Truth, which was a bit of a letdown from the previous two records. While it still retained all the elements that had made the earlier albums so great, In the Absence of Truth seemed to lack a bit of that spark and inspiration.

Most notably, the vocals on the album are often sung cleanly. Aaron Turner has a decent enough voice, but it doesn't have a lot of character. The other aspect of this album is that it almost feels like the band lost a bit of focus in the songwriting and allowed jam tendencies to creep in. Their songs were never exactly brief in the first place, but on In the Absence of Truth they just tend to sprawl a lot more than necessary. Granted, they're not long in that excessive Metallica "we don't edit our music because we're super special people" way. But instead, Isis tries to allow more atmosphere than is probably warranted.

Perhaps this release suffers because the context was created by its predecessors (Oceanic and Panopticon). In the Absence of Truth never quite jumped out and grabbed me by the earlobes the way those two albums did and I'm apparently being harsher in my observations than if some other band had released this exact album. In the grand scheme of things, this is still a fine album, but within the realm of Isis, it's a bit of a letdown from previous efforts.

Review by John Chedsey

Review date: 10/2011

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