Isis
Celestial
Escape Artist
2000
A

you belong to the jungle. Your days are cauldron hot, unbearably humid and, because of an ever-thickening ceiling of green, endlessly dark. Your nights are spent listening to the screams, struggles and grunts of similarly sleepless others. Rather than lie awake you wander, searching for the jungle’s edge and the end of your sleepless, sopping existence. You run, your knuckles scuffing the damp earth, but inevitably you become tangled in vines. You struggle, winding yourself ever deeper into your living shackles. It dawns on you: you are trapped. You slowly raise your arms until they are level with your heaving, fur-covered chest. You look upward to a sky you cannot see, open your mouth and scream. This is Isis.


But imagine that you break free, run and find the jungle’s end. You witness a milk-white moon pouring its cold self over an endless, topless savannah. You inhale pure, dry oxygen rather than wet, airborne waste. You sit in grass. You sleep. This, too, is Isis.


Equal parts knuckle-dragging sludge and atmospheric pacification, Isis is one of the world’s premier heavy acts. The band is led by Aaron Turner, the mind behind Boston’s fabulous HydraHead label, and has recently signed to Mike Patton’s Ipecac Records, so you know they’re good, but until you listen to Celestial you will have no notion of the power that this band possesses.


God, it’s beautiful to come across a group that is as driven by the desire to level as they are by the desire to create an interesting, layered, lasting piece of art that appeals to so many different senses and faculties. Listening to Celestial is an all-consuming experience, one that satisfies every part of the animal brain.


Your curiosity will be rousted by the album’s experimental “SGNL” movements: a collection of four ambient noise pieces, situated at various points throughout the album. Strange and static-ridden, each “SGNL” makes use of a different primary sound – whistling air, unintelligible voices, typing – to confound the listener and give shape to the album. These pieces do more than just indicate the end of a song, they provide a recurring motif that brings a sense of unity to Celestial .


Your desire for peace will also be satisfied. For all the chest pounding violence found within Celestial , there is also time for reflection. This is what makes the album so special. Isis is not out to blow your doors off, they are out to blow your mind. The quiet moments found on Celestial are breathtaking, and not solely because they are unexpected. “C.F.T.” centres around a dusty guitar refrain, echoing and lonely. Its repetitive, slow build – eventually incorporating distant, distorted drums, fuzzed out guitar tones and moaned vocals – brings to mind, if anything, Do Make Say Think. The second half of “Celestial (The Tower)” is pure space rock, replete with synthesizers, delay pedals, and perfectly chosen, buzzing sound effects. Even the single acoustic guitar chord at the end of “Deconstructing Towers” possesses haunting power.


Ah yes, power. The third need fuelled and fulfilled by Celestial . The need to dominate; the need to wreck. As interesting as the album’s quiet moments are, they are not the focus here. Isis is a behemoth: thick, bass-heavy, crushing. Their songs are epic structures that threaten to roll over you at every turn, only to morph into even more menacing forms. “Collapse and Crush” is as slow and destructive as music gets, with Aaron Turner’s simian vocal attack – an ugly, scowling bellow – becoming almost buried by the density. “Swarm Reigns (Down)” begins with a decidedly Jesus Lizard-y dirge beat before detonating into a haze of brutality. The final track begins with the band’s most direct moment, giving way to a jagged, off-time riff and heavily treated, muttered vocals. It’s all a set up for the album’s final blow out, the pillar-toppling, battle-scarring fire that is “Quiet Time”. After laying waste independently, the molested guitars, inhuman bass, thwacking, unpredictable drums and Turner’s Neanderthal wail recombine to level you one last time.


Frightening and vicious, Celestial might be off-putting for non-metal folk if it weren’t so engrossing. Thick and repetitive, the songs would be hypnotic if some part of them wasn’t constantly changing. Creative and lovingly assembled, Celestial is your way out of the jungle.


Reviewed by: Clay Jarvis
Reviewed on: 2003-09-01
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