Isis


(Copyright © 1999 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )

Celestial (2000), 7/10
Oceanic (2002), 6.5/10
Panopticon (2004), 7/10
Aaron Turner: Edward's Lament (2003), 6/10
Old Man Gloom: Meditations in B (2000), 6/10
Old Man Gloom: Seminar 2 (2001), 6/10
Old Man Gloom: Seminar 3 (2001), 6/10
Old Man Gloom: Christmas (2004), 6/10
In The Absence Of Truth (2006) , 6/10
MGR: Wavering On The Cresting Heft (2007), 6/10
Red Sparowes: At The Soundless Dawn (2005), 6.5/10
Red Sparowes: Every Red Heart Shines Toward The Red Sun (2007), 6/10
Wavering Radiant (2009), 5.5/10
Old Man Gloom: NO (2012), 5/10
Old Man Gloom: The Ape of God (2014), 5/10
Jodis: Secret House (2009) , 5/10
Jodis: Black Curtain (2012), 6/10
Split Cranium: Split Cranium (2012), 5/10
Mamiffer: Hirror Enniffer (2008), 5/10
Mamiffer: Mare Decendrii (2011), 6.5/10
Mamiffer: Bless Them That Curse You (2012), 5/10
Mamiffer: Statu Nascendi (2014) , 6/10
Mamiffer: The World Unseen (2016), 6/10
Sumac: The Deal (2015), 5/10
Sumac: What One Becomes (2016), 6/10
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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 Neurosis and Godflesh. 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 strumming). 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 noise. 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 hyper-hectic album. 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 Cave In, 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 Neurosis and Godflesh to new claustrophobic records.

Aaron Turner also played in the Lotus Eaters.

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 Mogwai. 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) with 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 Destructo Swarmbots.

(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 di claustrofobia.

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.

The Red Sparowes, based in Los Angeles, were formed by members of Isis (guitarist Bryant Meyer and bassist Jeff Caxide) and released the post-shoegaze instrumental progressive-rock of At The Soundless Dawn (Neurot, 2005). The idyllic free-form soundpainting of Alone And Unaware The Landscape Was Transformed In Front Of Our Eyes (8:28) is hijacked by hypnotic repetition that turns into a soaring refrain (and eventually into a cryptic finale of jungle sounds and musique concrete). More vibrant guitars open Buildings Began To Stretch Wide Across The Sky And The Air Filled With A Reddish Glow (7:23) but the tone is soon subdued with the guitar barely strumming at each other in a quasi-mystical atmosphere; and then the booming riff ejects everything to a higher orbit, until the whole crashes again and we are left with a fragile cartilage of sound. Terrifying drones open Mechanical Sounds Cascaded Through The City Walls And Everyone Reveled In Their Ignorance (11:20), but then they dissipated like big black clouds that fly away, and in their stead a martial crescendo takes centerstage; this turns into a gentle motif but dissolves in a wind of ghostly voices. After a somnolent beginning, the 13-minute The Sixth Extinction Crept Up Slowly Like Sunlight Through The Shutters As We Looked Back In Regret turns into a maelstrom of expansive ringing chords but then doesn't know how to end (a sudden silence and a few piano notes). These are pieces overflowing with pathos, that develop slowly and carefully for maximum emotional impact, but sometimes don't quite find the way out of their own predictable path.

The Red Sparowes' second album, Every Red Heart Shines Toward The Red Sun (Neurot, 2007), again consisted of sprawling instrumentals but this time the sound was even less "heavy". The slightly discordant Great Leap Forward Poured Down Upon Us One Day Like a Mighty Storm Suddenly and Furiously Blinding Our Senses turns into a typical crescendo of stately circular melody. We Stood Transfixed in Blank Devotion as Our Leader Spoke to Us Looking Down on our Mute Faces With a Great Raging and Unspeaking Eye is notable for the way it seamlessly turns soft into hard and viceversa, and then blends the two in a way that sounds both lyrical and brutal. A Message of Avarice Rained Down and Carried Us Away into False Dreams of of Endless Riches is one of the best examples of smooth transition of mood: a shy pastoral lullaby that picks up strength and becomes a virulent hard-rock jam via minimalist repetition.
The longest piece, Like the Howling Glory of the Darkest Winds This Voice Was Thunderous and the Words Holy Tangling Their Way Around Our Hearts and Clutching our Innocent Awe stages a raga-like crescendo that quickly peaks with a catchy and thundering hard-rock riff; but, after a dissonant bridge and a sort of acid-rock jam, it drifts aimlessly to a faceless ending. Millions Starved and We Became Skinnier and Skinnier While Our Leaders Became Fatter and Fatter has perhaps the gloomiest sound, and also the least predictable dynamics, a sort of stuttering speechlessness that takes forever to coalesce into the canonical fast and roaring finale.

Oh Lord God Of Vengeance Show Yourself (Neurot, 2006) is a compilation of sorts of the two Red Sparowes albums.

The (Fallen) Black Deer are guitarist Greg Burns of the Red Sparowes and Josh Graham of A Storm Of Light. They debuted with the ambitious Requiem (Latitudes, 2008).

House of Low Culture was yet another side-project by Isis' Aaron Turner that released Edward's Lament! (Neurot, 2003) and Poisoned Soil (Sub Rosa, 2011), that also featured his wife Faith Coloccia, two albums devoted (especially the second) to subliminal ambient music and peaking with the 21-minute Inappropriate Body on the latter.

Isis' fifth album, Wavering Radiant (Ipecac, 2009), confirmed the trend towards making their music more accessible. However, it sounded even less inspired than In The Absence Of Truth. Hall Of The Dead is their attempt at a grunge-pop hit, and never mind that Aaron Turner is not exactly a pop crooner and that Clifford Meyer's prog-rock keyboards add a rather pompous dimension to the proceedings. Stone To Wake A Serpent is another melodic tune that gets stretched into a lengthy piece (this time with overtones of early Pink Floyd). The graver Ghost Key sounds like a progressive suite by a redeemed death-metal group, with tempo shifts, lengthy keyboard motifs and complex instrumental counterpoint. The eleven-minute Hand Of The Host alternates brutal moments and quiet moments, but neither are particularly engaging. 20 Minutes 40 Years blends pop-metal and shoegazing in a more compact beast. The ten-minute Threshold of Transformation has finally the dynamics and the heart of a major composition, with vocals chanting like in a trance and guitars intoning hypnotic riffs, and then cascades of evil syncopation evoking Tool, before the languid Pink Floyd-ian ending. This closing piece redeems the many weak parts of the previous pieces.

Aaron Turner also launched Mamiffer with performance artist Faith Coloccia (Everlovely Lightningheart). They specialized in lengthy brooding post-doom meditations on Hirror Enniffer (2008) and especially Mare Decendrii (Sige, 2011). Mamiffer then collaborated with Locrian on Bless Them That Curse You (Profound Lore, 2012).

While born accidentally, supergroup Old Man Gloom risked becoming more popular than the original bands of its members with its twisted hybrid metal contaminated with post-rock and acid-rock. NO (Hydrahead, 2012) included the 14-minute Shuddering Earth. The eight-song The Ape of God (2014) and the four-song identically titled The Ape of God (2014) were half-baked efforts at revitizing a stagnating sound and project.

Aaron Turner was unstoppable. Jodis, another collaboration with James Plotkin (and Tim Wyskida of Khanate), released Secret House (2009) and Black Curtain (2012), two albums of ambient metal. He also sang on Twilight's Monument to Time End (2010). Split Cranium, a collaboration with Jussi Lehtisalo of Circle, debuted with Split Cranium (2012). Mamiffer released Statu Nascendi (2014) and The World Unseen (2016).

Then came Sumac, a more serious effort. Aaron Turner adopted the death growl and focused on heavy sludge, but also on wildly unstable dynamics. The Deal (Profound Lore, 2015) was a tentative experiment, with the confused nine-minute Thorn In The Lion's Paw that is neither sludgy enough nor progressive enough. The twelve-minute Hollow King is basically a concentrate of stereotypes (with countless stops and starts that interrupt the flow) but they are not amalgamated in a cohesive unit. The ten-minute Blight's End Angel doesn't quite know what to do with a captivating doom-y riff. The slower 14-minute The Deal is another chaotic heap of cliches that sometimes work and sometimes don't, but don't constitute a whole, although in 14 minutes there are certainly more interesting moments (it's called statistics). Last but not least, the playing is not exactly virtuoso and the singing is amateurish (it wouldn't scare a baby left alone in the forest). This first album feels like a weekend project.

Sumac's second album What One Becomes (Thrill Jockey, 2016), however, was a different story, with Turner's growl even "blacker" and the music a lot better organized. Sumac was now the more cohesive trio of Aaron Turner, barbaric drummer Nick Yacyshyn and panzer bassist Brian Cook. The ten-minute Image Of Control is worth every course correction that it undergoes, catastrophic post-metal guitar noise that, after four minutes, marries a martial tempo and a horror voice, and later stages a duet of tribal drumming and anthemic guitar. On the other hand, the ten-minute Rigid Man is dominated by a lengthy solo of hyper-psychedelic guitar followed by a lengthy solo of hyper-spiritual guitar. The eleven-minute Clutch Of Oblivion begins hypnotic and subdued at a crawling tempo and boasts a breathtaking guitar break after about four minutes and a half and a harrowing effect when, towards the end, the the music stops for a funereal ticking and cavernous drones. The 17-minute Blackout is instead a mess, although at the eight-minute mark the guitar and bass finally intone a frantic staccato concerto and four minutes later the music (at this point fully instrumental) seems to mutate into a raga.

(Translation by/ Tradotto da xxx)

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