Brother, there’s nothing you can tell me about heavy music I don’t already know. And this stuff that passes for heavy on the radio these days—crap like Drowning Pool or whatever, all of it with the same unimaginative production, sound-a-like drop-D riffage and identical constipated barking vocals—it’s just dryer lint compared to some of the real plutonium-grade heaviness leaking damage out there.
I’m talking His Hero Is Gone, Konkhra, EyeHateGod and the first two Pungent Stench albums. These are records that don’t just blow your speakers; they suck everything in the room through the shredded cones and implode it into a parallel universe.
I’m a connoisseur of all things heavy. Or at least I used to be, back when either neck-snapping speed or stool-impacting heaviness (and ideally both!) was pretty much the only thing I cared about when purchasing a new metal record. Lately, though, as I throw on a copy of Been Caught Buttering or Hate Songs in E-minor to wind down after a long day negotiating the complexities of hippie jam music and plangent singer/songwriterdom, (it’s stressful!), I find myself increasingly restless and unfulfilled. I guess you could say I’m looking for a new heaviness in heavy music that’s harder to define or quantify. I guess you could say that the recovering metalhead in me has been looking for a band like Isis for some time now.
It’s about dynamics. Isis doesn’t just have loud parts and quiet parts, fast and slow parts, light and heavy parts or any of the usual metal clichés. They build on themes. Their songs take extended shoe-gazing lunch breaks and blow the doors down on the way back in. Isis exert a fearsome amount of pressure and control throughout every song, strangled melodic buildups to jackhammer attacks and vice-versa—monstrous slabs of molten riffage that decay and flake away into pastoral melodies. And, dammit, they take their time doing it.
None of the wham-bam-thank-you-metal-fan stuff with everyone scrambling to just get the rocks off and have a nice day, kids—these songs move on a timetable usually reserved for glaciers and plate tectonics.
Oceanic is the newest Isis album, and it feels like a concept album. Even if it isn’t, it might as well be—a concept album about someone who’s fallen overboard, kacked his head on some bit of drifting flotsam and is now drowning in slow motion, dying in a slow metal fantasia. It’s certainly not for listeners who demand instant gratification. The 10-minute-plus “Weight” is metal at its most Sisyphean; Isis keep pushing the same boulder up the same hill and they just never make it. The release never seems to come.
I think that’s what’s been missing in metal for me lately—not the release, but being denied the release. The diversity of metallic, digital and vocal elements swaddled up in the huge mix makes Oceanic almost symphonic in its reach. And symphonic is a word you have to use carefully when talking about metal, because there have been bands in the past who took the symphonic and operatic qualities to ridiculous extremes. Anyone out there remember Savatage? “Gutter Ballet?” “In the Hall of the Mountain King?” OK, me neither. Let’s never speak of it again.
Isis is more like prog rock revisited with a minimum of perplexing time signatures but long on the hypnotic, droning, swarming and dissonant guitar sounds that give these compositions such oceanic depth and darkness.
If you like latter-day Neurosis, you’ll like Isis. If you like the extended punishment sessions of vintage Godflesh, you’ll like Isis. Need more? If members of Tool and the Swans put together a side-project that strove to combine the most seductive aspects of both bands, it might sound a little like Isis. Or members of EyeHateGod (and I know you’re all big EyeHateGod fans, right?), Helmet (whose song “In the Meantime” has served as a template for a lot of hybrid punk-metal that’s come out in the past 10 years—you can clearly hear the influence on Isis, too) and Wolverine Blues-era Entombed.
Jeez, at least tell me you’re with me on some of these metal references. I’m starting to feel like a midlife-crisis version of one of those stoners in tight black denim and huge white hightops who used to congregate by the bus stop to smoke and trade yellow-nailed stories of weekend bong-sesh exploits. Isis would have been the biggest news to them since Slayer—as long as they had a good logo to draw on denim in ball-point pen during third-period study hall.
Isis come down heavy on Jay’s Upstairs this Saturday, Oct. 5, at Jay’s Upstairs with supporting acts Dalek and Ever Since the Accident. Show starts at 10 PM. Cover TBA.