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A Massive Crushing Offering - 85%

Five_Nails, May 18th, 2011

With a gigantic crushing mix of sludgy guitar-toned atmosphere in style and production strengthening the slow, thundering and lumbering doom metal riffing, Isis brings riffs through birth and death astutely in their first album, “Celestial”. As the precursor to the band’s stellar discography, this album’s out there theme and raw exterior displays an exceptional artistry to the delicate precision with which Isis creates their sound.

Isis is now renowned for their slow brooding instrumental style, but “Celestial’s” chaotic, reverb-laced aggression and bass heavy mix is actually the most deviant of the band’s full-length discography when placed next to the inspiring and genre-bending “Oceanic”, “Panopticon”, “In the Absence of Truth”, and “Wavering Radiant”.

Spaced out with some celestial samples, Isis slowly grows their sound from small and catchy riffs into what sounds like strings being slowly ripped from their instruments for rhythms and wires being shredded for leads. With a conventional drum kit as the bass backdrop to this already immensely down-tuned treble end, the music is easy to fall into yet also hard to discern for the untrained ear. While chaos rises in tracks like “Celestial (The Tower)”, “Swarm Reigns (Down)” and “Deconstructing Towers”, the band ensures that while on their progressive journey, the listener is brought back as closely to a square one, or musical neutral, as possible by slowing and minimizing their output. These breakdowns are just as immense as their gigantic metallic sound is juxtaposed with how small they begin and largely they end. Yet this minimalist approach to them is also very well constructed with sludgy guitar interludes, leads, riffs, solos, and rhythms flowing in and out of the vortex of sound.

As their first album, Isis is still working through some things including bringing rhythms to full rounds and creating what will become a very cyclical drumming approach (which I cannot get enough of in their later works), but even as these fledgling innovations are only giving hints toward what they will later become in this discography, Isis opts to strongly show off as many splits in their musical personality as possible all-the-while going through similar motions that give this album as viscous consistency with plenty of subtle changes throughout.

“Deconstructing Towers” is probably the most unnerving track in this album. While I could point out “Swarm Reigns (Down)” as probably the most exemplary of tracks in “Celestial” with its sanity shredding chugging, hardcore and metal fusion, and crescendo of riffing immensity to round out the previous three tracks, “Deconstructing Towers” was one that grew on me slowly mainly because of the intensity of its tonal juxtaposition. For the first time on this album, the treble instruments reach their most extreme of highs to the band’s most encouraging rhythm of the album, and their least subtle hint of perfected cyclical drumming. Sludge is a tough word to use to describe these extreme highs, which if played at different tones and a step or two slower would probably be the outcome, but as these guitars scream for attention at the forefront of the mix, the bass end of the band ensures they are always ensnared by the background as the low end remains crisp and in control. Alongside this seemingly harrowing mix is another example of what Isis would create, metal with not only a bluesy sound to it, but jazzy riffing and rhythms that come and go as the band strives to birth, flash life before, and decay sounds all in the same track.

“Deconstructing Towers” is not only musically important as the height of extremity for this album, but also signifies the beginning of this album’s thermidorian as the band not only recedes into a quieter and more subtle sound, but utilizes this to round out the entire album to the common neutral of its beginning, albeit gigantic sounding in comparison to their recession from extremity. “C.F.T. (New Circuitry and Continued Evolution)” and “Gentle Time” bring the band to their most radical of calms and from there build into the monstrosity that they began with. Astutely played and never boring or long-winded, Isis makes this rebirth of their original sound a refreshing culmination of what these two tracks set out to create and have played an important role in how I’ve come to understand this band’s sound and approach each later Isis album.

The vocal department is what’s to be expected from Isis, screamed lyrics forming single words or phrases that really don’t add as much to the mix as do the instruments, yet ensure any listener can scream to catharsis along with. If I said that Isis would be better without the vocals, I would be doing the instruments justice, but as with many styles of music, many listeners find more meaning in the lyrics and put the instruments together as one sound, and for those listeners the vocals and lyrics are something to give reason to these seemingly random tones. For those listeners, there will not be any catchy chorus, inspiring chant, or line that truly speaks to the individual, but the vocals do expound upon themes that one listening to solely the instruments and ambient breaks would most-likely not pick up on.

In all, if you prefer a sound that utilizes its begrudgingly slow rhythms to drag you into it rather than gets into you, shows subtlety within its abrasive appearance, and rounds it all out with a nostalgic hint of the old style of music, Isis will fill your chalice and “Celestial” will introduce those low tones you’ve been missing for years.

Towards The Infinite Skies. - 90%

Perplexed_Sjel, April 22nd, 2009

This Isis style is almost entirely removed from the modern day band. The additional notes even claim the same; “In their early days, Isis were a sludge/post-hardcore band. They later moved on to a more-Neurosis influenced sound and most recently, post rock.” Whilst the band has moved on to new pastures, the old stomping ground has still got a lot to offer any newcomer, or existing fan of the band. 2000 was an important year. The millennium bug was meant to strike to devastating affect, but didn’t. The world was caught in hysteria over the dawning of a new millennium, but was quickly washed down on New Years Eve by several inebriating spirits and finally, Isis appeared on the sludge scene with their debut ‘Celestial’, ready and waiting to dominate a genre that was only beginning to establish its feet within the metal genre, as a whole, despite being formed many years previous. On first listen, ‘Celestial’ is difficult to digest. The production was the first thing I noticed and I wasn’t too keen on it to begin with. As time has gone by, the production has actually become imperative to the overall sound. I’ve relinquished my short standing morals on production and learned to appreciate its unique input.

If you’re entering into this record expecting something similar to the modern day era of the band, you’ll probably be disappointed because it does contain a different sound which contrasts drastically to the works of ‘Panopticon’ and ‘In The Absence Of Truth’. If you’re looking for comparisons, I suppose ‘Oceanic’ would factor into the equation. This record and ‘Oceanic’ weren’t released too far apart, so its expected that the band would maintain some of the same traits that saw them through the first hurdle of their career. However, there are noticeable differences between the two, such as; the differences in metaphorical exploration, a very important aspect of the experience in listening to Isis. Like Caspian, I initially didn’t enjoy this record. Its edge and unfathomable production were curious, if any. Though the record intrigued me, it didn’t spark a great deal of energy in me. However, after several years and repeated listens, there is an underlying energetic feel to the Isis style that makes me a believer. Oh, Lord! I am a believer!

Whilst ‘Oceanic’ delves deep into aquatic themes, focusing mainly on atmosphere generated by the production, drowning us with heaps of layered distortion and determined vocals that act like huge waves upon waves of forceful ocean water, dragging us deep beneath the mire, ‘Celestial’ takes us on an astral plain, flying towards the previously unreachable skies and beyond that, to the opening gates of heaven which are welcoming us with out stretched arms and a guitar in one hand, a pick in the other. The description of the modern day Isis needs to be neglected at this early stage. The so-called post rock influences don’t exist at this stage. Instead, to fill the void that one might thinks exists (but actually doesn’t), soundscapes of Biblical proportions are sublimely spliced throughout the record giving an other worldly feel to the textures of the diverse soundscapes which drift in and out of consciousness, allowing us to see beyond what is actually on the record and connect with our spiritual personalities that exists beneath the surface of our weary souls. By that, I mean that Isis have created a record that is visionary in two different senses of the word.

First, ‘Celestial’, which is defined as “pertaining to the spiritual, or invisible heaven” is metaphorically created in order to give the listener an almost religious experience. Taking us away from the daily grind of life and placing us in a spiritual vacuum, swirling us around the painful expressionist soundscapes that pummel us continually in the face with hardened and heavy guitars and maximised distortion. The major downside for me was always the amount of ‘filler tracks’, or pointless instrumental, or programmed pieces that ‘Celestial’ has. They don’t seem to serve a distinctive purpose. When I look at the record from the outside, I see a collaboration of ground breaking songs, mixed in with troublesome fillers. If this were the playgrounds, and the lengthier songs were the wimp, the fillers would be the almost overpowering bully. I just wish someone, anyone, would come along and exclude them altogether. Be done with it and take them away from my life. They damage my opinion, they damage my motivation. On the surface of things, Isis have the attributes to make them sound like a typical sludge act. However, there are certain things which all sludge bands do, that Isis simply do better.

A) Generating a passable atmosphere - Take songs like ‘Collapse And Crush’ for example. Its metaphorical and metaphysical nature is to collapse upon the listener with consumptive guitars, destructive distortion and crush the listener with idealist vocals. Aaron Turner’s performance is pivotal to the atmosphere that Isis create. Though sludge based vocals aren’t typically the best thing known to man, as long as you have a vocalist who has the ability to produce an emotive display through his voice, in a sparse way, and as long as it doesn’t become overbearing and reflect negatively against the instrumentation, then it works well. Turner’s abilities on the microphone have increased tenfold since this record, but they’re still pressing, constructive and harshly melodic in a surreal fashion. His performance, vocally, is consistent and warrants credit since, unlike many sludge vocalists, he doesn’t detach himself from the atmosphere of the music. He enhances it with his almighty vocals that depict anger, loathing and loss. The emotive nature of Isis was always bound to be apparent in their music given the lyrical themes, but the instrumentation does an apt job, no wait, a brilliant job at fusing the two together. Vocals and instruments work like cogs in an intricate machine, turning simultaneously and making impressionable strides towards a perfect sound. Even the bass is largely audible, which was pleasing. The double bass doesn’t hamper it, nor do the vocals when they’re present.

B) Creativity, desire and dynamism - All three are keywords when it comes to any form of music and the majority of fans. In order to surpass your peers, you must be creative, desireable in the eyes of the public and dynamic. Of course, there are a few genres that decline this idea (DSBM and funeral doom, to name but a few), but slowly and ultimately surely, ‘cloning’ will be phased out by the better bands. Since Isis’ arrival, many bands have attempted to re-create their style but only once have I really come across a band who managed to learn from the Isis style, and improve upon it in their own unique way, and that band was Bossk, who have unfortunately split-up. I suppose, though I hate to admit it, the creativity of this record lies in the contrast of song - filler - song format. Though it isn’t necessarily ground breaking, its different and against the normality. The desires within the fan, of which I consider myself one of, comes in the form of simply wanting more. The irresistibly intoxicating feel of those heavy riffs, intricately mixed with the resonating bass that lies hidden beneath the clouds of the hazy production, reminds me of the smell of freshly cut grass. Its appealing and although you do forget what it smelt like at the time, you remember how it made you feel. ‘Celestial’ is oddly euphoric and occasionally feels like its bringing me to the brink of death and back, especially in songs like ‘Gentle Time’, which is anything but gentle. Together, creativity and consuming desire makes Isis dynamic. Highlights; ‘Glisten’, ‘Swarm Reigns (Down)’, and ‘Collapse And Crush’.

Forget my previous review, this album kicks ass. - 90%

caspian, October 19th, 2005

I initally didn't like most of the songs on this record, but after a lot of listening (and getting used to the earlier Isis sound) I really started to enjoy this entire album, so, in order to do this record justice, I thought I'd re-review it, because this albums deserves a higher rating then the 70% I gave it.

This album starts off with a big bang. Well, after the SGNL track. Celestial (The Tower) is a monster of a song. There's some damn big riffs here, particurly the one note riff that dominates the first few minutes. Really headbangable, and with some great drumming. Sure, it's not very techincal, but there's a really heavy groove. It's just awesome. It's followed up by some rather good screaming too, before sinking into a long, slow space rock breakdown, complete with delay effects and lazy guitar leads.

This album is mostly a mixture of two things: Heavy, chunky guitar riffs with a groove, and melodic, psychedelic kinda stuff. The heavy stuff is always very good, with the possible exception of Glisten. Swarm Reigns (Down) has some really cool, heavy stoner riffing. Deconstructing Towers is actually a fairly fast song. It's got some really good, straight up Metallica style riffing. That is, until it dissolves into a painfully heavy break down, laden with feedback. It's a bit gonzo or whatever, but it's really damn good, and painfully heavy. Gentle Time rocks out with some slow and super laidback stoner riffing. The guitar tone really helps these songs. It's super-distorted, a real wall of sound thing going on. It's not really as evident in songs with more of a single note thing, but songs like Collapse and Crush, Gentle Time and the Title track remind us that Isis are a very heavy band. The drums in this record are great too. I'd say it's Aaron Harris's best effort in Isis yet. It's not ultra techincal blasts or anything, it's fairly simple and very effective, it really keeps the song pumping. The bassist is also really good. jeff Caxide is one underrated bassist, and he has a big role in this album, whether doubling something to make it heavier, or plodding away in the background.

The thing that makes this record special, however, are the mellow bits. Yeah, the heavy bits are ultimate. But most bands can only do one or the other. Thankfully, that's not the case with Isis. Celestial (The Tower) has a great space-rock break, Collapse and Crush sinks into some really cool melodic beats, which build up with a great fuzzed out bass line underneath. C.F.T, while for the most part being fairly boring, has some really great melodic Ideas too. Once again, the drums should be mentioned. Harris does some great stuff in these softer parts, and why he isn't praised to the skies I don't understand. Maybe it's the lack of double bass blasts or whatever. Regardless, he's an amazing drummer. The vocals are really quite good in this album. While most of it is the screaming we all know and love, there's a bit of experimentation in this album. No cleam vocals, but there is some strange singing kinda stuff in Gentle Time, and the strange yells Aaron Turner does in Celestial really complement the song brilliantly, and they're not that easy to do either. It's also good hearing a bit of 2 vocalist action, as we seen, again, in the title track. That's the last time, and only time I've ever heard that attempted in an Isis song.. I wish they could try it again.

So, in conclusion, you might well hate this album. The SGNl tracks were a big put-off for me, and it's taken me a while to fully understand and like this album. It's not in the same class as Panopticon or Oceanic, but it's damn close. A must buy for all stoner fans, as it's definetly their most straight up stoner album. Definetly a must buy for all Isis fans too, mainly because it kicks major ass.

enjoyable: a change of pace - 80%

fieldmouse, October 24th, 2004

The other reviewer of this album has publically revealled to us all how problematic it can be when something is judged under the wrong criteria. ISIS is not death metal of any sort, it's basically heavy rock music.

I often regard them as the logical inversion of dirgers Electric Wizard or even Godflesh (Isis have covered the legendary Streetcleaner track and earlier ep). Where those earlier ep's were abrasive thundering slower paced hardcore, with slight interests in the experimental, Celestial is levels its aim at its title. This is hardcore, rock based, music filtered through a psychedelic aesthetic to produce something which will induce colourful visions in the listener, whereas Electric Wizard present a more monochromatic one: ranging from inpenetrable green smoke haze to black.

When i thought rock was sincerely dead, this band showed me that there were momentous riffs that were yet to be written, recorded and enjoyed. The opening opus, The Tower, is indicative of this album and a worthy introduction to this band. For strict metal fans, download before purchase.