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I'm rather new to Isis; however they've become one of my favourite bands thanks to this album. I think I only started listening to 'em last year although I recall having heard a couple live songs on the radio station I used to listen to. Though I don't really remember what the songs were, they must've impressed me enough to want to check 'em out later. I dunno know why it took me so long to do so. This is seminal, probably the first of its kind. I believe it was one of my first exposures to the realm of post-metal. While I am not a fan of the records before this, I found something to like about this. Previous records just never clicked with me, I can't explain it, I should like 'em but I do not. Their glorious transition from standard uneventful sludge to what is now known as post-metal apparently began with “SGNL05” more than a year before. They totally reinvented themselves with "Oceanic" while still keeping their chaotic sludge roots by adding post-rock elements, some clean/female vocals and more melody. It is heavy as fuck sludge yet docile and beautiful.
From the first beats of "The Beginning and the End" to the epic nine minute closer "Hym" this album is pure brilliance. Something that definitely stands out for me is "Carry". There are no fillers here, every song is essential. The whole album truly conveys a watery/oceanic feel, it is indeed properly named and goes in hand with the lyrics and the cover. This album depresses me greatly, in a good way. It's not the same feeling I get when I listen to DSBM or such music, it's a different kind of sad feeling, if that makes sense. Parts of the record really get me to on a deeply emotional level. Every growl, every riff, every beat, it is pure musical bliss, all the way through. One thing I really love about this record, though, is the sound of the snare drum, it's just so heavenly, to put it that way. It's really special so I'm not entirely sure why they dropped this for their next record, though they brought it back for the other ones. The rabid vocals here really sell it for me. Aaron Turner is truly one of the best vocalists for me; I love his furious growls as well as his clean vocals in songs like "Hym" and "The Other" which he would later use more prominently on "Panopticon". Three guitarists on this record are something worth noting; amazing, as well as the splendorous bass work. It's just so perfect; it's actually very audible and not buried in the mix!
Isis will forever remain a force in metal to be reckoned with, not just when it comes to post-metal/sludge. They created something legendary that will live on forever. I'm glad I gave 'em another chance after not having really enjoyed anything prior to "Oceanic", if I had immediately dismissed 'em I would have missed out on something big, for sure. "Oceanic" is one of those 'staple' albums for me, a genre defining one. It probably if not single-handedly created an entire new genre and inspired countless generation of bands to create their own works. We owe 'em too much. It is an album not even Isis themselves could top, I mean "Panopticon" is good in its own way, I guess but it is "Oceanic" that is their masterpiece in every possible and imaginable way. Certainly the Beginning and the End.
I often find myself becoming disgruntled with the comparisons between Isis and Neurosis. On the Celestial era, Isis did show a definite Neurosis vibe, but from Oceanic on wards, Isis are more often than not the ones being imitated. Oceanic was a ground breaking record which mixed the aggressive post metal of Neurosis with a stronger post rock vibe, resulting in what is perhaps the first album of its kind, ushering in a new blend of metal, hardcore and post rock.
At its core, Oceanic is a blend of post hardcore and doom metal with the song structures and atmospheric prowess of post rock. Most of the songs follow the loud-quiet dynamic of post rock and thus it’s structured rather similar to ambient music. Long songs that start off fairly quiet and mellow with more and more elements being added on or taken away. This gives the songs a feeling of evolution, with the band always going through multiple transitions. Oceanic isn't a riff oriented album, with the guitars content to play quiet post rock passages with louder, more bombastic chord progressions. There’s not really any stand out melodies with the music being more rhythmic and progressive in nature.
Despite the relative simplicity of the style it never gets boring. The music truly has an oceanic feel to it, what with the constant shifting of the guitars and the multiple transitions. The production feels very warm and clear, the guitars have a nice crisp and clear tone to them whilst retaining a rather dense wall of sound ala Neurosis. The overall feel of the music is very organic and natural. The transitions between light and dark sections never feel awkward or out of place feeling like a natural progression. Of course, it can be argued that the bands over reliance on the standard tropes of post rock might get a tad predictable but the surging climaxes and the atmospheric quiet sections are interesting and varied enough to ensure the music remains interesting.
Vocally, front man Aaron Turner utilizes a harshly yelled bark not dissimilar to Neurosis. They’re never fast or aggressive, perfectly suiting the meandering atmospheric style performed here. The ethereal female vocals on the track Weight work perfectly with the soothing music underneath, she’s got a beautiful voice and it complements the music really well. Lyrically this is a concept album of sorts with a single story being portrayed through each track. The story is quite dark and depressing, dealing with subjects such as incest and drowning. Surprisingly, despite the dark and disturbing content presented by the lyrics, I find the music rather uplifting and soothing. It certainly never becomes depressing or too hard to handle, instead the music is very comfortable and warm.
Obviously Oceanic is not an album for everyone, the overuse of the climax and general minimalist and repetitive song structures might begin to wear thin on some listeners out there. After all, this is an album that strives for atmospheric progression above all else. The music on Oceanic is very calm and soothing, and even when it picks up a bit as is the case with the surging climax on The Beginning and the End it’s still remains relatively calm, never outwardly aggressive. I guess some metal listeners out there will be put off by the albums “soft” and calm disposition and its connections to the hardcore and post rock scenes. Really though, Oceanic isn't a typical metal album and would be better suited for those looking for atmospheric and emotional music rather than something you can headbang and rock out to.
The atmosphere that this album provides is unique, perfect, and makes us think clearly why ISIS was meant to be. This record is the shift from the chaos provided by the past lp and eps that a band can use this in a passive-aggressive manner. The work done by all the members is great because they invite us into the maze of their minds and transport us to the very first row of a tragedy and make us watch every aspect and analyze profoundly in every chord, every riff, every growl, and every key.
The album is a spiral, like all the good tragedies, but the beginning is the combination of both (hence the title of the song) moments of light, moments of darkness, and once you go straight forward, every place is a dark, atmospheric place that only our morbid feelings come out just to know what is going to happen.
The heaviest sound comes every moment of the record, giving more presence once you go to the final track, yet giving the catharsis at the middle of the road. The guys in the band looked for something to be remembered by until the end of time and this second material gives everything that we can image: heaviness, rage, pain, order, progressions that go to the most calm chords to the most furious riffs, slow and quiet moments that in an instant become in the most furious anger, giving a slap to our ears and our feelings in such a manner that make us wanting to repeat over and over again the record.
We came to the maze and they took us to the tragedy, we actuated as spectators of this and we wanted more, once we got to this place, there is no way back to our old selfs, because we were catched by a different sound, we tasted a different thing, we tasted the sound of all things to come.
Is 'sleepy' a valid thing for a piece of art to make you feel? Look, I understand that Isis' goal is not to be the heaviest band in the world. I have perspective; I know I'm not listening to Devourment. But it's beside the point; I don't think any matter of style really justifies how oppressively still this music is. I'm at a loss as to what actually happens in this music (which to me seems to be incredibly simple despite what others say); it seems to just wander a huge amount without ever arriving at a destination.
This is ostensibly metal but it just feels like post-rock to me, which is sort of curious since 'Panopticon', the following album, was supposed to be one of the instrumental releases in establishing the post-metal style. But shit, calling this metal would be tricky for me; Isis doesn't really have any riffs, drive, aggression, or heaviness. They're loud, occasionally; boy do they love to be loud. It seems that literally every big, climactic moment on this album is caused by volume increases, and Isis mercilessly beats the crescendo trope of post-rock to death song after song. It's as though they have no idea of how else to create excitement for the listener except through slow, gradual buildups of volume. Visionary artists my ass.
Post-rock is constructed sort of like ambient music: small, simple elements are slowly piled on top of each other and selectively subtracted to creating a shifting wall of sound that changes in nearly imperceptible ways. A lot of ambient music is made with electronics, which naturally creates something that's less varied note-to-note than physical instruments; it's cool, I get how it is. Isis, however, has no such excuse. On 'Oceanic', they have the bad tendency to repeat themselves verbatim for long stretches of time, with simple, five note guitar lines (can't really call them riffs) looping seemingly endlessly and not driving the songs anywhere. Most of the variation seems to come from the drums, since Aaron Harris apparently has a fetish for randomly placing bass drum notes from measure to measure. Apart from that, nothing really happens; it's just a collection of meandering, mostly clean guitar lines that rarely add up to anything in the end.
The problem with 'Oceanic' is the one-dimensionality of its songwriting. Do you not anticipate that Isis is going to go for a crescendo as a climax rather than trying a different construction? Really now, don't you? Considering the vast similarity between tracks on this album, this is an inexcusable fault for the record. Do you have any idea how tiring it gets listening to Isis churn through low-volume chug riffs, clean guitar noodling, and the occasional brash crescendo over the course of a fucking hour with basically no variation demonstrated? I really don't understand how this can be revered as a complex, fascinating release when nearly every turn the songs take can be anticipated from miles away. Well, the answer is obvious: metalheads don't listen to post-rock, so when confronted with the conventions of a genre they've never heard before, they immediately spring to 'genius' as the explanation.
Oddly enough, I really enjoy 'Panopticon'- in fact, it's the only Isis album I really like. It's really the perfect balance of the band's aimless noodling and a more focused sense of songwriting. 'Oceanic', on the other hand, just staggers around in the former without ever evidencing a greater goal for their songs. Frankly the post-metal genre has become to oversaturated over the past few years that you could probably walk into an FYE and trip over twenty better albums than this one. And if you don't like it, start off quiet on your crash cymbal and then hit it harder, faggot.
Though ISIS is generally described as post-metal, I feel that it was necessary to include them in this blog, as they are the pioneers of Post-Metal.
Oceanic is ISIS' first true post-metal album. While the first ISIS albums tended to borrow quite a bit from the old Neurosis sound, this album tends to break away from the traditional ISIS sound, and tends to lean towards long, emotional songs.
When ISIS made this album and broke away from their traditional sound, they seemed to keep the slower tempo that they found to be successful. The song length tends to be around 8 minutes (give or take) and each song is characteristically different. Though the tempo tends to be slower than the average post-rock album, the songs still have forward motion, there are very few instances (I would be hard pressed to find any) where the songs feel like they are just trying to be longer.
As far as recording quality goes, this album is fantastic. The clean guitars sound realistic, and the distortion is deep and crunchy. The guitar tone tends to be much sludgier than most other post-metal. The drums are all full sounding, with complete dynamics. I could not find any places where the album felt like it had been "patched together." Each instrument, including the vocals feels completely organic.
Th mixing is absolutely fabulous. Each instrument weaves in and out (as the album title suggests, each instrument adds together to create a full sound, that moves just like the waves of the ocean) when it should. The vocals are not pumped up like most modern albums (which may take a while to get used to). Instead they tend to blend with the rest of the instruments. My one complaint is that the low frequencies tend to get "mushed" together at points, and sometimes the bass is not distinguishable from the rest of the mix.
The general feeling of the album is very dark. There are points where the minor chords could very well cause temporary depression, but with that said, this sets up the audience for the rest of the album. The few major, or happy parts throughout the songs become so much greater, due to the strength of the minor parts. The whole album uses ambience to progress the album like one long song. Each song builds on the previous song, until we reach the finale, which, just as ISIS has always done, sums up the whole album, while still leaving a pleasant taste in the audiences mouth.
Vocally Aaron Turner relies heavily on growling vocals. These growls are not processed as you would find in many death metal bands (such as Bloodbath or Hypocrisy). Instead his growls have an organic, raw feeling. They tend to be lower in the mix, which takes some getting used to, but it just makes sense in the full idea of the album.
Finally, the lyrics follow a concept, unlike any seen before. Instead of making a specific story out of the concept (though there is a story to it), the album relies on a theme. In Oceanic the theme is mixed between the female theme, as well as the water theme (as introduced in earlier material such as Red Sea, and Celestial). The story is not complete and coherent as certain aspects of the story take place before or after the album (what should arguably be the climax in the story, "From Sinking" is the second last song, followed by the musical climax "Hym.").
The biggest highlights of the album would have to be the emotion that is put into it. From taking the audience from a depressing sound to a completely joyful sound the band allows itself staying power in many aspects. Each song builds on the other, and the finale is fantastic. The inclusion of a female vocalist on a few of the tracks (especially "Weight") was a great inclusion that added to the overall theme. This album just grows on me each time I listen to it. On the downside I found the vocals to be a bit too harsh at points, keeping the audience from fully understanding the lyrics.
If you can stand growling vocals, and love the characteristic builds of post-rock, this album is definately for you.
I orginially wrote this review for my blog http://the-post-rock-review.blogspot.com.
Mixing a unique blend between post rock and proggy sludge metal (if you want to get technical), Isis manages to produce a synergistic blend between the two genres. Fans of either music scene will share some common ground with this influental act along with the likes of Pelican, Red Sparowes and most notably later Neurosis. Enough ass-kissing and going off on tangents though.
The more I listen to this album, the more it grows on me and every time I find a new layer or discover a new part I hadn't noticed before. The harmonious blend between the guitarwork and the just-above-background-noise-level basswork that's coupled with the vocalist and his female counter-part on "Weight" are all neatly accented by the techy, mid-paced drumming skills. This along with the seemless flow and salty-sweet mixture between the ambient, almost trance like instrumental parts and the crushing sludge metal breakdowns produce a concotion you're sure to get drunk off of. This is all outlined with the progressive nature of each song.
The most interesting aspect is the fact that no one instrument overpowers another. The guys at Isis managed to produce a clean, almost borderline hard-rock style of sound where everybody gets an equal say. That's bound to make a field day any bassists looking to get some ear training.
The one complaint that I (at one point) had is the lengthy, interlude-ish center in the album only broken after about fifteen minutes of post-rock style music that they manage to show off by an epic crescendo. Now after a few listens I grew to love this like any mother would love her deformed child, but a warning goes out to all the "tr00 metal" heads out there: Skip tracks 5-7 if you're not looking for that kind of music...As for the other side of the fence, these parts are just what you're looking for on.
In general, that's what this album is all about. It's mellowed out metal for the stoners and prog-heads out there. An almost 50/50 brew of the two strands of music...Give it a few rips with an open mind and you're bound to be banging your head with your circle of friends in hazy rooms for days to come.
“Sludge metal is a form of heavy metal music that fuses doom metal and hardcore punk. Sludge metal is typically aggressive and abrasive; often featuring shouted vocals, heavily distorted instruments and sharply contrasting tempos.” The key words in that sentence being “heavy”, “aggressive” and “abrasive”. Isis’ second full-length, ‘Oceanic’ is the epitome of sludge, according to that genre definition. However much that may be the case, I still find it difficult to fully appreciate the harsh vocals that Aaron Turner implements on this record. Why? Well, as a long time fan of Isis, I have the ability to be able to use hindsight which, as we all know, is a fantastic gift to have. His clean vocals, which only truly begin to show themselves on ‘Panopticon’ are what gives Isis the edge over a billion over sludge bands that are characterised by harsh vocals, which often become annoying and take away from the underlying sublimity that rears its head in the form of an aquatic-like bass sound and stunning soundscapes, perfected through cleaner instrumentation, as opposed to the harsh distortion that sludge usually brings to the foreground of its display. Early Isis material and the word ‘heavy’ go hand in hand, therefore the definition is certainly apt in this respect. ‘Oceanic’ clearly displays those aggressive tendencies, typically forced onto the audience in the form of heavy guitar effects and Turner’s shouted vocals, as well as the ability to turn a harsh moment into one of withering beauty. The bass, in particular, is special. The performance on bass is one that needs to be highlighted time and again because of its leadership, dragging a weary Isis into battle and its ability to sustain the underlying growth of beauty despite the heavier and harsher instruments (as well as vocals). The control and sophistication of ‘Oceanic’ was never really a factor on the previous effort. This is by far more mature and constructed in a way that makes it more effective as a listen and as a machine, which all brilliant sludge bands should be treated as.
The cogs of this wheel turn over and over again, with repetition comes a almost faultless sound. The intimidating production does wonders for the instrumentation on ‘Oceanic’, which has a wonderfully apt title. The under water feel to the music makes me feel as those the guitars are waves, pulling me further and further into the whirlpool of Isis, the underlying beauty and spectacular soundscapes. Much like a doom metal band would do, Isis keep the surface rigid and touch, hardened for those fans who appreciate the harshness of sludge, its thick and abrasive sound. Also like doom, the inner workings of the music are sharpened by a stunning beauty. The bass and elements of the percussion are well suited to drawing in a listener with a mesmerising, even hypnotic repetition that ceases before boredom can strike. The guitars build slowly, tugging away at the heart strings with melody and mellifluous chords before they take on their crunchy façade. The musicianship must be praised. We’re dealing with quality of the highest order. Intertwining performances that play out like a movie such as Crash. Many different characters and characteristics from all walks of life, slowly, but ultimately being brought together in a crushing tale of epic proportions that begins all elements of greatness together into one spectacular defining sound. The production is an oddity. There are occasions when sludge metal truly lives up to its name, creating a thick layer of sludge over the instrumentation, protecting it from outside influences and allowing it to work effectively within its realms of chaos and divinity. Despite this, there is a crisp quality to the production. It doesn’t hinder progress, not even at its thickest. Clichés like ‘wall of noise’ were created for things like this. Improved song writing and the ability to be able to craft the soundscapes into many different shapes and sizes is almost unparalleled. Often breath taking, soul destroying and euphoric all in one go, ‘Oceanic’ feels like you’re on a deep sea dive, discovering new and unfounded elements of the sea that man has not laid eyes on before. This is a classic and always will be. Highlights include; False Light, Carry and Hym.
One thing that seems common among most sludge bands is the tendency to eventually release a Space-Metal album. More often then not, the album sinks, being way too pretensious, or just way too boring. Oceanic is not one of these albums though. While it may be epic, with all the songs going over 6 1/2 minutes, it still retains the earthy feeling off previous Isis albums. Isis dont feel the need to go spacey, instead, they seem to have been spending a lot of their time swimming.
This album has a truely oceanic feel. Guitar lines ebb and flow, with a lick coming to the forefront before sinking back to join the rest of the music. The bass is particurly good, often bubbling away just under the surface, always supporting the guitars but often going off on it's own tangent. The vocals are, as always, buried in the mix, complementing the guitars brilliantly. One thing that really improves the album is the use of Female vocals. They've been mixed very low indeed, but repeated listenings bring them out, and they enrich the songs for it.
In this album, Isis for the most part are happy letting the songs wander off in their own direction. There's no verse-chorus-verse thing here, with all the songs evolving in their own matter. Isis do this very well, and much of the structures are unpredictable. Carry starts off with ambient guitar, and slowly adds layers, and 6 and a half minutes later, it's pounding you with a huge metal riff. Beginning and the End twists and turns, starting off heavy, going into slow twisting guitar lines, before getting heavy again, then going back to the slow mellow vibe of before. A lot of similar bands will do the whole start off quiet end up loud thing, but Isis don't use that tired formula. The songs just go along very naturally, sometimes with a long extended mellow part, sometimes, just drowning you with waves of noise.
In the end, this is definetly not an album that will appeal to everyone.Some people will find it too slow. I didn't like this album much from the first listening, but repeated listenings show that albums of this quality don't come along very often. The best release of 2002. If you're curious about Isis, get this album first.
Unlike any older Isis releases, "Oceanic" is not ultra-heavy but now it is elevated to incredible intricate sonic architecture that relies on extreme progression, dynamics, and rich texture. The songs flow in and out of heavy and clean parts, like waves of the ocean, seamlessly with incredible melody. The songs really keep on changing, never leaving a boring feeling or any repetitiveness (except for the two short "intermission" songs.) The drumming throughout the entire album is really effective. It isn't really technical or fast, but it is so fitting and blends in so perfectly with the music. The clean guitars add rich melody and atmosphere.
The vocals are deep, harsh screams, but not too fast or aggressive. They certainly fit the type of music, and I have learned to like them. There are a little bit of semi-clean vocals also. They are really used more for rhythm than melody. Large parts of songs are instrumental anyways.
“The Beginning and the End” starts with a quick tumbling drum beat and quickly starts a very unique melody, very soon adding the aggressive vocals. The cleaner, instrumental parts in this song are some of Isis’ best. Near the end the song slowly gets calmer and fades out. It’s definitely one of their best songs.
“False Light” begins with an awesome, threatening sounding melody, getting aggressive fast, and then containing some great instrumental parts, sneakily changing into the next song.
"Carry" is a very interesting song. It is progressive in a different way, providing an incredible musical buildup. It starts out with almost nothing, slowly adding substance, then percussion, then a little guitar plucking, then another guitar, then changing to a very unique sounding riff, eventually leading to the vocal, heavier part of the song, which doesn't stop evolving and growing.
After the first four songs, you have a little intermission entitled “-“ full of sound effects, and then two very different songs:
"Maritime," a short, simple melody that truly has an "Oceanic" feel, makes me fell like I am exploring the underwater world on a tropical island, and then the monster song "Weight." This is probably the most inventive song on the album, maybe even my favorite song on it. This song is a bit monotonous on first few listens. (I can really see Mogwai comparisons for this) and relies on the same theme throughout the song, adding and changing some things along the way. It is very minimal, but also complex in a way that is hard to describe. It starts out with a soft, underwater sounding melody and very slowly evolves and gets heavier. The suspenseful buildup is just as great as the amazing finish with female vocals. It provides visuals for the imagination: I think of a scuba-diver getting sucked into an undertow and getting gradually pulled towards the bottom of the ocean because of unavoidable water pressure rapidly getting heavier, eventually leading to his death. Whatever you imagine, this song definitely has an extremely stressful, helplessness, and fearful feeling, but it makes the song amazing.
This is one of the CDs in my collection that just took a really long time to fully appreciate. This is becoming a classic in my collection and in the world of metal. If you happen to be really interested and then when you finally hear it you're disappointed, give it a lot of time. Isis is beginning to evolve into a truly unique band and hopefully they will continue to do so. Check out their next album, "Panopticon" also.
I'm not going to go into too much depth with this review, as the previous reviews were good enough to explain the intrinsic class of this LP. I am on the other hand just going to get off my chest how brilliant this LP is myself so I can sleep better at night. HA!
Some people get put off and scarred by the word "melodic", "oh no, not that poofy style". Fuck that for a second, this LP absolutely annihilates that typically dull outlook and opinion on the general melodic style used within the aggressive and metal genre.
The LP starts off with an annoying riff and I instantly got worried upon listening that it would be as dull as previous CDs they have released. Then the vocals kick in and it gradually gets better. Until it actually becomes a phenomenal LP. The melodies are fantastic, the droned vocals are emotionally arousing and thought provoking and full of desperation. And the guitar work is very simple but almost beautiful expressed through droned tones etc.
Track 4, "Carry" is honestly out of this world. One of the most atmospheric, spiritually beautiful and mind enhancing build ups I have ever heard within this range of genre. A VERY simple percussion starts up with lovely guitar harmonies in the background, takes 4 minutes to get the full tempo of the song going and 4:15 to here the first vocals. It all fits into place extraordinarily, tempo constantly building up and the emotion pouring.
The next few songs are like a comedown, pure melodic, simple and suited to the CD.
The next few songs being great too, "From Sinking" having a truly immense melodic breakdown on it near the end.
I'm gonna quit my yapping now and go and listen to it. Bye
Upon my initial listen of this album, many high points were immediately revealed. However, further listens only prove to reveal more details encompassing the sonic structure of this great work. Whereas Isis' previous albums tend to focus more or less on the idea of building up tension and releasing everything in a cathartic blast of fucking insanity, "Oceanic" accomplishes that while maintaining a sort of serene beauty and flawless transitions between the songs.
Many have compared Isis to Neurosis, a band from a similar school of though. It isn't really fair, however, to draw a great deal of comparison to any other band when listening to this. This is easily the most original album that emerged from 2002, and for good reason. Each song endures for an average of six to ten minutes, and each second counts. The crushing guitars and the atmospheric effects slowly build upon each other, entailing a sort of expressiveness not normally found in such heavy music. The vocals aren't a huge focus, usually consisting of hardcore type shouts (as mentioned in the first review) or female vocals that serve for a welcome contrast. The bass and drum levels are appropriately configured, not drowning out the riffs, and not really forcing a sense of "where the fuck are the bass and drums?" onto the listener.
In closing, labeling this as doom metal wouldn't make much sense. Electric Wizard or Cathedral this is not. However, fans of doom and atmospheric metal would surely appreciate the content of this release. Rarely is such innovativeness and flawless execution displayed in this modest fashion.
And now for something completely different…
It’s not often I find a metal record which creates this reaction, there are of course hundreds of bands who push the limits and are truly original in one way or another, but when I first heard Oceanic I could honestly not think of a single album, current or otherwise to compare it to that didn’t have “Isis” written on the cover. The band mix hardcore with Sabbath style doom and add plenty of ambient touches and atmospheric moments, which led one writer to observe; “This isn’t NYHC, it’s NowhereHC.”
That said it took me an unprecedented amount of time actually get something approaching a handle on this little piece of plastic, to the point where I actually though about returning it to the store. The main problem lay in the apparent lack of anything approaching a hook, catchy riff or memorable vocal line to pull the listener into Oceanic’s watery depths.
The band construct long songs, averaging about eight minutes (and even almost reaching eleven on the mammoth “weight,”) out of slow to mid-paced riffs and quiet interludes (the quiet before the storm) which repeat for a while then disappear to be replaced by more crushing guitars and percussion. All the time building and gathering momentum, the songs always seems to be on the edge of bursting their banks and going out of control when, without warning the storm subsides and we get another melodic interlude, and again the songs rise and subside (into other songs) like a tide approaching and receding.
The entire album carries an aquatic theme, from the rising and flowing nature of the guitars to the bass which seems to be constantly bubbling away just beneath the surface. The artwork and lyrics give us images of the sea and at the albums halfway point (-), we get two minutes of running water, whale noises and other eerie deep sea sounds to really set the mood for the albums second half.
The songs themselves (as already stated) can appear bland and featureless at first, but repeated listens uncover the hidden subtleties of each track, this is in no small part due to the richly textured production that has every instrument at exactly the right level and sounding great. The guitars crash and rage with an almost hardcore feel at times, at others they rise up on successive chords to ascend to new levels of power and emotion. The drums are the back bone but also the catalyst for each new movement, changing constantly but at the same time providing a reference point for each song to return to when an interlude is needed to create light amidst the waves. The vocals (when they appear) are delivered in a familiar hardcore shout, which is given just the right amount of attention in the mix, they don’t rise above everything and become annoying, but neither are they lost.
“The beginning and the end,” begins the album and is a sign of what’s to come, riffs rise and fall whilst the drums and bass work with, and around them adding weight to the mesmerising (yet totally headbangable) guitar progressions so that they never end up going off on a tangent and stay constantly focused. Other standouts include “Carry,” which builds for four of it’s six minutes before exploding into a dizzying display of how to craft memorable yet crushing riffs, and may just be the albums best moment. The lightweight melody of “Maritime” sets the scene well for “Weight,” the longest, most drawn out and slowest building of Oceanic’s nine tracks, it’s hypnotic mixture of sparse guitars, drums and a quiet female vocal line are another highlight.
I’m not going to say this album has to be in your collection because it’s not something everyone will be able to get into, but for those who can it is one to return to over and over, it’s power and originality make for one of the best (and possibly most important) albums recorded since the millennium.
Isis is primarily an exercise in ambient song writing that falls somewhere between Neurosis, God Speed You Black Emperor! and Sleep (the first of those comparisons being the most pertinent as regards textural/superficial sonic similarities). Isis uses almost exclusively slow to mid-paced repetitive riffs and drumming in order to build momentum towards peaks, and then relax into seemingly post-coital troughs. Vocals are scarce on this album. When they do appear they take one of two forms; a hardcorish bark (that somehow manages to sound warm and unabrasive at all times) or, more rarely, a psycadellic female sung voice. The vocals invariably take second place in the mix to the instruments, and consequently they have a trapped, frustrated feel to them which helps to build the often understated momentum that characterises the song writing.
That isn't to say that this album is completely devoid of head banging moments; many of the riffs, particularly on the first two tracks, do have a fairly developed sense of stoner groove. However, such passages are almost invariably countered by sensitive melodic interludes which free the mind to wonder the far flung intellectual dimension that this music inhabits.
To listen to Oceanic casually would be to do the record and yourself an injustice. This album needs to be absorbed slowly through repeated careful listenings in order to appreciate it. Having said that, much of the album is immediately striking on a certain level too, and the album has a tendency to invoke favourable comments in even my non metal loving friends who give it even a cursorary listen.