ISIS: a retrospect (12 years of inspiration)

Boston-rooted Isis never were that regular kind of band. How could they ever be anyway? Deeply influenced from somehow forgotten Godflesh materials and Neurosis also, they humblely started entering the world of music since 1998. It’s difficult to predict their gradational evolution since the four tracks of 1998′s demo could hardly pronounce the forthcoming Armageddon. Aaron Turner, Michael Gallagher, Cliff Meyer, Jeff Caxide and Aaron Harris somehow tested their chemistry and created some seriously heavy musical masterpieces through the years. Let’s take a look chronologically.

“Smiles and Handshakes”, “Catalyst”, “Ochre” and “Lines Across Eyes” were the tracks featured in the band’s first demo which was also included in the second disc of their first official work, the “Mosquito Control” EP (7/10). The “Streetcleaner” cover of mighty Godflesh betrays their influence from this big band and generally the riff-ology of the band is becoming genius in songs like “Life Under the Swatter”. The minimalistic tactics of the band are obvious in “Poison Eggs” which is constucted with a chaotic method (something we’ll get used to later). The vocals of mr. Aaron Turner are a bit more harsh and raw than the latter albums of the band but still, this is a super-heavy musical diamond which was yet to be discovered.

The year that followed 1998, the band releases its second EP under the name “The Red Sea” (7/10). Still different than what they were going to soon excrete as their debut full-length, it rather approaches the band’s first record due to its tone. The brutal post-industrial sludge style of Isis is still present and songs like “Charmicamicat” hides some quality stuff in, stangely dressed up with unregular noise. Less raw than the previous EP release, “The Red Sea” still sounds angry (especially when it is compared to the band’s next works) with Aaron Turner leading the den to a seemingly heavy jamming done in some twisted way. The same year, Aaron releases his first work with another project called “Old Man Gloom”. The album is called “Meditations in B”. The musical anxiety has just begun.

In 2000, the band excretes a split with grind terrorists Pig Destroyer and the “Sawblade” EP. But this year, the band’s debut full-length is finally released.

The paeans had spoken of war; and they named this “Celestial” (9/10). Those very years, the sludge style Isis were promoting was something not that easy to be digested. However, the heaps of layered distortion of this record can cause serious damages. Of course, I mean mentally. This was considered as an underground gem until two years later. In this, Isis’ diverse soundscapes can still connect to our spiritual dimensions despite the lack in the so called post parts of their music. This sounds like the music of the earth’s core and probably the first part of the “three-element-theoritical-trilogy” isn’t named that way all of a sudden. Celestial. The soundtrack of mother Earth. Aaron’s vocals are emotive and you can already discern his beautiful tone through the whole sludge-based harshness. This is a terrifying record with relentless heavy-loaded riff of the guitars. The attack of “Glisten”, the megatons of “Swarm Reigns”, the colossal construction of “Gentle Time”, all are continuously feasting on some musical warfare. Created in sheer abnormality, this record might have made sense for various reasons. The lazy guitar leads and special delay effects are so smartly combined with Isis’ groove which is often interrupted by some fabulous and raw break downs coloured with feedback. Their music sinks in some extraordinarily melodic beats and I believe Aaron Harris has helped a lot to that. His efficiency is essential and substantial also. Really smart drumming, indeed. Despite the fact that “Celestial” may sound a bit monochromatic and minimal, its songs are performed through a psychedelic aesthetic. Already a legend.

The same year, the drone/experimental collectivism of “House of Low Culture” releases its first full-length and within its line-up there’s Aaron Turner, too, avocating with some guitar stuff and electronics. The name of this release is “Submarine Immersion Techniques Vol.1″.

In 2001 Isis release the “SGNL>05″ EP (8/10), somehow introducing the audience their slightly new musical direction they’re into. The well-know sludge parts break down into ominous melodic riffs e.t.c. The atmospheric element becomes now more obvious than ever. Though, the ambient soundscapes are still part of the band’s visions and the swirling frequencies between the tracks add to the whole special chaos only this band can create. Besides this, the same year, another experimental/ambient project releases its first EP called “Alienist on a Pale Horse”. Aaron Turner collaborates with Sunn O))) member Stephen O’ Malley and Khanate’s James Plotkin in a project called “Lotus Eaters”. Isis’ bassist, Jeff Caxide, releases with melodic doomsters 5ive two (endless music production machines) albums; the homonym, “5ive”, and “The Telestic Disfracture”.

It’s 2002 and Isis decide to take a dive in the cold ocean waters. The band releases “Oceanic” (10/10).

The same year, Aaron Turner releases the “Gettin’ Sentimental” album with House of Low Culture. Now, take a deep breath. The same guy releases the “Euro Friends” EP and “Seminar II: The Holy Rites of Primitivism Regressionism” full-length with Old Man Gloom. He also releases the “DR-55″ EP and the “Mind Control for Infants” with Lotus Eaters. Concerning other members of Isis, Jeff Caxide participates once again in 5ive’s “The Hemophiliac Dream” EP. How much more can they do anyway?

2003 was an empty year for Isis musically but not for the band members, of course. Once again, the band’s frontman, Aaron Turner, is part of House of Low Culture’s “Edward’s Lament” and releases once more a new full-length and a new EP with Old Man Gloom. This band’s new excretion is called “Seminar III: Zozobra” and the EP’s title is “Christmas Eve I&II + 6″. Well done, Aaron!

2004. Isis’ great gamble to themselves is a fact. Their fame is at stakes but the band doesn’t seem to really care at all.

“Panopticon” (10/10) is the physical emanation of the members’ experience to date. Although the record seems to follow the precedent set by “Oceanic”, this album is a new species of life. A new breath and a brand new inspiration. Ignoring the production credits (the mixing of the album is simply fantastic), we’ll try to focus only onto the songs. This album’s spacey feel creates some intense emotion. Everything, and I do mean everything, is perfectly constructed and, of course, performed. This is the first time we hear Aaron trying some even more melodic vocal lines and he comes to persuade us that his voice is as beautiful as we expected it to be. “So Did We” couldn’t have made a better start for the record and its powerful, heavy as hell, beautiful though, initial riff wastes the audience. The layered with cymbals chorus of “Backlit” is breath-catching. The beautiful intro of “In Fiction” already prejudges the song as an everlasting hymn and generally creativism is at its peak. Once again, the five punks from Boston have created a masterpiece. It is possible for you to be subject to the aural equivalent of majestic ethers. The tranquil reverberations retain their prominence in the foreground. Tool’s bassist, Justin Chancelor, drops some additional bass sounds but only participates to Isis’ musical orgy without declaring his own identity at all. Techically, emotionally, “Panopticon” is a timeless record.

Of course, Aaron Turner couldn’t have just settled on the “Panopticon” release so he releases the “Christmas” album with Old Man Gloom the same year. Moreover, Jeff Caxide releases the “Versus” EP with 5ive. In 2005, both Bryant Clifford Meyer and Jeff Caxide are part of a new apocalyptic release called “At the Soundless Dawn”. This newly introduced band’s name is Red Sparowes. MGR (Mustard Gus and Roses) is a one-man band including Michael Gallagher and excretes its first work, called “Nova Lux”, also.

Year 2006 finds Isis collaborating with Scottish post-rock band Aereogramme with whom they record in two days (!) the “In the Fishtank 14″ EP (6/10). Pretty much confusing, this tree-tracks excretion hides titanic moments, yet it is sometimes bothersome. Anyway, this is a whole new challenge the band didn’t fear to experience with.

Two years have passed since the release of mighty “Panopticon”, so the band releases at last its new creation. It is called “In the Absence of Truth” (7,5/10).

The same year, Michael Gallagher releases a new MGR EP called “Impromptu”. However, this year totally belongs to Bryant Clifford Meyer because he releases three full-lengths from three different projects. First of all, the new Red Sparowes album is called “Every Red Heart Shines Toward the Red Sun”. Windmills by the Ocean is an atmospheric sludge band and releases its homonym debut. Another slugde/doom metal band called The Gersch releases its homonym debut, too. Bryant participates in both of the above mentioned bands.

In 2007, Aaron’s return to discography is fact. Isis’ frontman releases two full-lengths with House of Low Culture. They are called “Chinatown Squalls” and “Hollywood Squalls”. Lotus Eaters release their “Wurmwulv” album, too. Michael Gallagher releases the “Wavering on the Cresting Heft” album with his one-man band MGR.

In 2008, Isis release the “Holy Tears” EP and “Not in Rivers, But in Drops” EP. Sometime through the same year, the “Shades of the Swarm” box set is available for the Isis fans. 5ive release their new album, “Hesperus”.

Three years of impatience have come to an end. Isis were back with a brand new album and it is called “Wavering Radiant” (9/10).

In 2009, MGR release the “Amigos de la Guitarra” album.

It’s 2010 and Isis, besides the “Expanded Edition” which was a boxed set release, excrete two songs in a brand new split with Melvins. Aaron Turner collaborates with James Plotkin in a new (purely misanthropical) project named Jodis and release their “Secret House” debut album. Moreover, he takes part in the Twilight band along with a pleiad of US black metal personalities and release their second album which is called “Monument to Time End”. Somewhere between these acts, the final words for Isis are dubiously written. The end for a great band had just arrived. If there can be some kind of end for a timeless music…


In their not so short discography, Isis managed to make sense in the musical world in an interspace of ten years. The “Oceanic” release especially was praised and honoured by various artists who participated in the record’s alternative versions of remixes. It was released as the “Oceanic Remixes” series which are constituted by four parts. Ayal Noir, James Plotkin, the Oktopus of Dalek, Tim Hecker, Justin Broadrick, DJ Speedranch, Mike Patton, Thomas Koner, Teledubgnosis, Venetian Snares, Fennesz, Destructo Swarmbots – all of them have created their own acceptation on Isis’ delicious music. Mastermind Aaron Turner is a musical freak who, besides the mentioned bands, has also been guest in albums of 27, Drawing Voices, The Hollomen, Union Suit, Greymachine and Mamiffer. Moreover, he’s an independent visual artist who has ornated many releases from various artists of his own record label, Hydrahead. A view in his personal blog page can be appraised. Michael Gallagher has also been part of Cast Iron Hike and hopefully he continues releasing such great stuff. You can enjoy the especial drumming of mr. Aaron Harris on Zozobra’s discography. Bryant has been also part of a band named Taiga. I’m not really sure of what former members of the band are actually doing but for sure, Jay Randall is part of a whole different scene and co-runs the band of Agoraphobic Nosebleed along with Scott Hull. Randy Larson and Chris Mereshuk are unwoven to the large audience. Isis have been a band constituting of unquiet musical spirits and that’s probably why they’ve triumphed in their sick or sweet melodies. The so many other bands that the members avocated with betrays a wide range of influences which were surely embodied and played their short part in Isis’ extravaganza. Will the music audience miss them anyway? Damn sure, they will. Nevertheless, Isis got to be respected for they chose to draw an end when they were still at the peak of their creativity and verve of inspiration. They have not actually abandoned the world of music but they’re going to still excrete part of their very souls with other bands/projects for music feeds them and they feed music back, in return. Indisputably Isis have been one of the most important acts of 00′s and I’m going to be thrilled every time I listen to any of their so beautifully bedecked releases. After all, it’s not that accidental that Isis have no alike imitators. At least, not that good ones. A one-of-a-kind band!

***Due to lack in objectiveness, the author chose not to review the ”Oceanic”, “In the Absence of Truth” & “Wavering Radiant” albums. I hope to be fully excused.

Miltos XIC

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