Isis is a band from Boston
(Aaron Turner on guitar and vocals,
Michael Gallagher on guitar,
Cliff Meyer on guitar and keyboards, formerly in a group documented on
Windmills By The Ocean (Robotic Empire, 2007), recorded in 2003 but released only four years later,
Jeff Caxide on bass,
Aaron Harris on drums)
that debuted with Celestial (Escape Artist, 2000), an album of brutal post-industrial electronic-metal sludge in the vein of
A little old-fashioned, but terrifying.
The first four minutes of Celestial build wall after wall of noise out
of the relentless panzer riff of the guitars, while the vocalist screams like
a prophet (alas, the next six minutes are an ineptly quiet coda of abstract
Even more vehement is the initial attack of Glisten, like
Deep Purple's galloping hard-rock wed to
MC5's hysterical terrorism. Again, the band fails
to sustain the tension, preferring to indulge in agonizing explosions of guitar
Colossal riffs open Swarm Reigns (and luckily return with an epic
vengeance after the routine slow passage),
but they invariably decay into meditative sections that the band's
musicians just can't keep alive.
Thankfully Gentle Time is the one beast that does not stop biting:
seven minutes of continuous musical warfare.
Deconstructing Towers stands out as the piece that uses the guitars
and the drums in a more dynamic way (as opposed to just utter power),
a rock'n'roll number by comparison with the other monoliths.
It also boasts the best of the quiet passages, all atonal and chaotic, with
even a disorienting acoustic guitar.
When they appear, as in Collapse and Crush, the vocals are used to add a touch of existential torture to the nightmare.
Even this early in its career, Isis had certainly mastered the art of the
primal guitar riff. When it rocked at full throttle, the album was the perfect
soundtrack for the coming horrors of the war on terrorism.
The five-song EP SGNL<05 (Neurot, 2001) sounded like left-overs from
the album, but the better-produced Oceanic (Ipecac, 2002) delivered another
powerful batch of highly explosive songs.
Nonetheless, The Beginning and the End and Carry
signaled a transition towards a moody form of stoner rock,
with the riff kept ringing at an intermediate level, more like an Indian-style
raga or a psychedelic jam than a machine gun or a panzer.
The best riff was hidden inside the closer Hym, the one piece that
was truly a match for the first album.
In a telling reversal of praxis, the eleven-minute
Weight builds up slowly towards the tension that usually Isis releases
at the very beginning of the piece.
The result was to emphasize the agonizing tones (The Other,
From Sinking) rather than the earth-shaking riff.
The price paid was a degree of monotony that did not exist at all on the first
On the other hand, The Beginning and the End, Carry and Hym
displayed a maturity that also qualified as "elegant", a major departure from
the brutal barbaric aesthetic of the first album.
Aaron Turner also plays in Old Man Gloom, a supergroup that began as a duo with
Santos Montana, as documented on the 1999 recordings that became the mini-album
Meditations in B (Tortuga, 2000 - Magic Bullet, 2003), and then evolved to absorb
Nate Newton of Converge, Caleb Scofield of
and Luke Scarola.
This extended line-up recorded the dual mini-albums
Seminar 2 - The Holy Rites Of Primitivism Regressionism (Tortuga, 2001 - Trust No One, 2002),
Seminar 3 - Zozobra (Tortuga, 2001 - Magic Bullet, 2003),
and the album
Christmas (Tortuga, 2004), containing
the 16-minute three-movement droning folk fantasy Christmas Eve.
These albums push the lesson of
Godflesh to new claustrophobic records.
Aaron Turner also played in the
Panopticon (Ipecac, 2004) shifted the emphasis towards atmospheric and
textural (and even melodic) elements. Rather than Neurosis, the reference mode
were now Godspeed You Black Emperor and
If Oceanic was a tidal wave, Panopticon is the landscape after
the storm: placid, deadly, exhausted, but still full of energy, thick black
cloud swirling on top of the ruined landmass and occasional rumbles of
a postponed apocalypse.
So Did We (an emotional rollercoaster despite the most melodic theme
of their career) and In Fiction (that begins quiet and ethereal to
soar later into a shoegazing apotheosis)
and the ten-minute Syndic Calls (swimming in a hypnotic lake
of ripples and refractions)
weave perhaps the most challenging
lattice, while Backlit and Grinning Mouths
are the hemorrhaging peaks of ugliness.
The ten-minute Altered Course, a lengthy lethargic excursion into
psychedelic sound effects, belongs to another band altogether.
Aaron Turner's much more prominent vocals are perhaps the main drawback of the
new course: this music has no need for
vocals, and, in fact, loses something of its magic every time lyrics are
added to the metaphysical rumble.
Luckily, most of the album is instrumental. While none of the musicians is
a virtuoso, the interplay has gone way beyond the first album's riff-obsessed
monoliths and achieved a kind of supernatural tension.
In The Absence Of Truth (2006) sounded like a less focused and less
gut-wrenching version of Panopticon. The search for sophistication
may have sent Isis on a wild-goose chase.
Holy Tears was the standout.
The album was, nonetheless, their most accessible yet.
Isis' guitarist Mike Gallagher launched the project MGR
(Mustard Gas and Roses)
Nova Lux (2005) and
Wavering On The Cresting Heft (Conspiracy, 2007), that opted instead for
post-ambient electronic music.
Amigos De La Guitarra (Neurot, 2009)
was a collaboration between MGR and
(Translation by/ Tradotto da Carlo Cravero) |
I bostoniani Isis debuttano con Celestial (Escape Artist, 2000), un album che si pone sulla scia del brutale sludge elettro-metal post-industriale di Neurosis e Godflesh. Suono un po' datato, ma terrificante.
I cinque brani che compongono l'EP SGNL<05 (Neurot, 2001) sembrano delle outtakes dell'album, mentre Oceanic (Ipecac, 2002) e` un'altra poderosa raccolta di canzoni devastanti.
Tradotto da Stefano Bedetti
Aaron Turner ha anche suonato negli Old Man Gloom, un supergruppo che ha iniziato
come duo con Santos Montana, così come testimoniato dalle registrazioni del
1999 che poi sono divenute Meditations in B (Tortuga, 2000 – Magic
Bullet, 2003), e che successivamente si e’ allargato fino a includere Nate
Newton dei Converge, Caleb Scofield dei Cave In e Luke Scarola. Questa line-up
piu’ estesa ha registrato gli album Seminar 2 - The Holy Rites Of
Primitivism Regressionism (Tortuga, 2001 - Trust No One, 2002), Seminar
3 - Zozobra (Tortuga, 2001 - Magic Bullet, 2003), Christmas (Tortuga,
2004). Questi dischi spingono la lezione di Neurosis e Godflesh a nuovi record
Lotus Eaters e’ invece una collaborazione tra Aaron Turner degli Isis, James
Plotkin e Stephen O’Malley dei Sunn O, che ha realizzato il doppio Ep Alienist
on a Pale Horse (Hydra Head, 2001) e il lungo Mind Control for Infants
(Neurot, 2002). Il loro sound fondamentalmente è l’equivalente “dark-ambient”
di quello degli Isis.
Panopticon (Ipecac, 2004) sposta l’enfasi verso
elementi atmosferici (ed anche melodici) dalle fitte trame. Più che i Neurosis,
il modello di riferimento sono ora i Godspeed You Black Emperor. Se Oceanic era
un’onda anomala, Panopticon è il paesaggio dopo la tempesta: placido,
mortifero, estenuato, ma ancora pieno di tensione: una densa nube nera che
turbina in alto sopra blocchi di terre in rovina e rombi casuali di
un’apocalisse ritardata. So Did We e In Fiction forse tessono le
trame sonore più intricate, mentre Backlit e la lunga (10 minuti) Syndic
Calls rappresentano i culmini emorragici dell’abiezione. L’inconveniente e’
forse costituito dal canto di Turner: questa è musica che non necessita di
parti cantate, e infatti perde qualcosa della propria magia ogni volta che le
parole si aggiungono ai clangori metafisici.