sis, in ancient Egyptian lore, is the much-loved goddess of fertility and agriculture. Isis, in the American music scene, is a much-loved heavy metal band- an extremely, superbly, mind-blowingly heavy metal band. Egyptian Isis gave life through her bountiful crops and fertile soil; metal Isis brings destruction with the pure, fierce density of their music. They want to crush you flat where you stand, and at their best, they are entirely successful.
It would seem, then, that Isis the band shares little with Isis the goddess other than their namesake. But the longer you listen to the band, once you’re able to hold your own within the pitch-black hurricane they send hurling out of your speakers, you begin to notice other things in the music. They don’t simply drop you into the middle of the howling storm; they also show you how the storm originates, and more importantly, how it concludes. The various atmospheres that Isis constructs within their music capably demonstrate both sheer aggression and the resulting catharsis with equal impact, and with such intensity as to border on a spiritual listening experience. It is music so far beyond the typical metal/grindcore/sludgecore that it defies easy categorization; each song is such a living, breathing entity that one might think the Egyptian Isis would be proud to share her name with their creators.
The Isis experience was at its apex with their 2001 release Celestial , which featured, for the first time, elements of ambience and electronics in addition to the pummeling mechanical catastrophe of the guitars and vocals. The centerpieces for Celestial were the series of movements called SGNL>1 to SGNL>4, ambient and sinister soundscapes that served to give the album a certain sinister coherency that may have been lacking if all the tracks had consisted of heavy, hypnotic guitar riffs. Isis followed Celestial with the SGNL>05 EP, which sounds very much like a simple extension of Celestial - and considering the quality of that album, it’s a good thing.
SGNL>05 begins with the title track, a perfect companion to the previous four SGNL movements with its sonar-like blipping, sparse piano, and a sonic backdrop that sounds like a mildly epileptic wind tunnel. It gets especially creepy when an unidentifiable sound floats into the mix, something akin to a deck of cards being shuffled if the cards were made of meat- a strange yet appropriate beginning to an album that proves to be outstanding.
The rest of SGNL>05 lives up to the ominous atmosphere of the title track. “Divine Mother” finds the band quickly delivering the almost tribal, utterly pounding percussion and monolithic, highly technical guitar playing that Isis is perhaps best known for. This smoothly breaks into a much quieter, more pensive guitar bridge that just allows you to catch your breath before they forcibly rip it back out of you with an even heavier riff than they began with. “Beneath Below” follows, fitting somewhere between the SGNL movements and the throbbing metal ends of the Isis spectrum, yet nonetheless sounds oppressively heavy even without the benefit of any guitars. The impending doom hinted at on “Beneath Below” is manifested on “Constructing Towers,” a throbbing, ponderous mother of a song featuring strange electronic chirping and squelches over a repetitive slab of a guitar line. The final track is a remix of “Celestial (signal fills the void)” by Justin Broadrick of Ice, Techno Animal, and Godflesh fame. He is an ideal candidate for this remix, considering the similar musical ideals his projects share with Isis, and his version of the song doesn’t disappoint. This track, with its mesmerizing repetition of the guitar theme, hypnotic drumming, and reverberating synth tones, illustrates the cathartic release found in the aftermath of the nearly overwhelming tension constructed on the tracks before it. It is an ideal way to finish the album.
SGNL>05 is a superb piece of music on its own, yet manages at the same time to be a perfect conclusion to Celestial . SGNL>05 rounds out Celestial without repeating it, exploring similar themes and occasionally expanding them into new directions. SGNL>05 is pretty much a must have if you enjoyed Celestial , and is equally necessary if you even remotely think you might enjoy heavy music. Play it loud and strap yourself in, it takes a while to get to the tranquil calm that follows the storm but the journey itself is worth it.
Reviewed by: Tony van Groningen
Reviewed on: 2003-09-01