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An interesting artifact. - 80%

Napalm_Satan, July 6th, 2018

Sawblade was always something of an oddity in Isis' discography, which pertains to its nature and purpose. Unlike anything else they've done this was never intended to be a main part of their discography, having been thrown together to be sold during a 1999 tour with Neurosis and Candiria. And when I say 'thrown together', it really has been: there's no cover art at all and it's more a compilation of unreleased tracks they had at the time - two covers from The Red Sea sessions and two demos that were recorded at home. Hence it's a collection of unrelated songs as opposed to a unified piece of work, something else which sets it apart from the rest of their discography.

The tracks that bookend this release are the two demos, and due to their experimental nature they may put some people off. The opener 'Emission of the Signal' is 5 or so minutes of a singular chugging sludge riff, with higher-end guitar noise coming in later, timed to the riff and contrasting with it, as well as sampled thudding in the background of the track. It's quite good in its own way, being a sort of build up to the meat of the EP, but the problem is it's too long - it could easily have been cut down to 3 and a half minutes and the effect would have been the same. The closing track is 'House of Low Culture', an 11 minute ambient/drone piece. Its first 4 minutes consist solely of rumbling sound effects which then give way to a guitar melody. The guitar work becomes less melodic with time as it shifts to heavier, more droning territory before fading out somewhat and allowing a sparse keyboard line to take over. It's a very good song, remaining interesting throughout and creating a tranquil, reflective atmosphere, however its sparse construction and sluggish progression may make it less immediately accessible to some.

The other two tracks are covers of absolute classics - Black Sabbath's 'Hand of Doom' and Godflesh's 'Streetcleaner'. Both of these tracks were recorded during The Red Sea sessions and as such they have a polished, crisp and loud sound to them with a very pronounced low end. The drums in particular are quite loud and the guitar tone is immensely distorted, sludgy and massive even by Isis standards. This goes some way to making both of these tracks improvements on the originals, but it complements 'Streetcleaner' much better as the power of this rather claustrophobic, intense production style can be felt more on a pummeling track like that than the comparatively laid back 'Hand of Doom'. This is partially why 'Hand of Doom' is the lesser of the two covers, with the other reason being that they don't do a whole lot with it. Aaron sings in a similar style to Ozzy (and does a better job of it) and the song is a little slower than before, but besides this it's very similar to the original. It's good and all but it's sort of unremarkable, and it can easily be argued that the track loses some of its character by replacing Ozzy's distinctive voice with a technically better performance that's merely an imitation.

On 'Streetcleaner' however, they very much don't go through the motions: the drums are live as opposed to a drum machine, the guitars don't drone as much, and the production as stated is fuller and louder than before. The 40 second spoken word intro from the original has been cut completely, as has some of the outro. As a result the track, while perhaps less mechanical-sounding than before, is made even heavier and more direct, with the band upping the intensity to levels that even this song's namesake album could never match while still managing to create a hellish atmosphere like the original. The riffing is more brutal and tense than ever and Aaron shouts in a manner similar to Justin but with more power, and his voice has more distortion and reverb to match the newfound intensity of the music. It's not often that a song becomes a classic for the band covering it, but Isis succeeded in doing so; it's an amazing rendition of an excellent song. While it can be argued that the loss of the drum machine and overall machine-like qualities to the sound makes the song less distinctive, this is undeniably a more remarkable and interesting cover than 'Hand of Doom' as they do something a little different with it. I'd even go as far to say I prefer it to the original, but this is a matter of personal taste.

This is a good release as you'd expect (though also uneven, as you wouldn't expect), however I would highly recommend you don't buy it, as its limited number of copies makes it a collector's piece with elevated prices. The CD releases start at around $38 and can fetch as much as $320, while the vinyl releases start at about $70 and go up to over $325. To my mind no singular album, no matter how good it may be, is ever worth this much and that's especially true for a half hour, 4 track EP comprised of two covers and two demos. It can't be stressed enough: either buy these tracks on Bandcamp, or if you wish to own them in physical form, the two covers (but not the demos) can be found on Temporal, along with many other rare tracks. Even Shades of the Swarm, a 12-disc LP boxed set, is a better proposition since you get a physical copy of this and their other two EPs (and hence their 1998 demo which is bundled with The Red Sea), and all of their albums (apart from Wavering Radiant.) These are all much more cost-effective ways of obtaining this material, and are very much preferable options to buying the EP on its own.

Not really worth tracking down. - 60%

caspian, September 24th, 2006

Isis have a habit of making you look for a lot of their releases.. All the live series are out of print (I think, anyway), all the Oceanic Remix LPs are hard to find, but the hardest one to find (at least as far as I can tell,) is this one. This one is rarely on Ebay and when it is, it commands fairly high prices. To most people, I would just recommend you download it like I did, as a quick look round the net will find it for you. I just don't think it's really worth the pain of actually getting it, because only half of the album is really worth listening.

The first track and the last track both aren't all that good. Emission of the Signal would make a decent interlude, if it was shorter.. It's just the repetition of one riff, with a short break in the middle. It would be cool if it was shortened to one minute, treated with tonnes of effects and put in the middle of Celestial.. But instead, it's 5 minute long, and the first track of an EP. EP's should not have interludes. House of Low Culture, the final track, is a mammoth and actually fairly cool ambient bit, sounding at times like a more accessible Sunn O))), droning away for eleven minutes, with some sound effects coming in and out of the mix. It's actually fairly cool, but it will severely test the patience of most people. The piano/keys at the end are fairly nice though, but it's an anti-climatic way to finish this EP.

The middle two tracks are a Godflesh cover and a Black Sabbath cover, and are probably the best two tracks here. The Streetcleaner cover is massive. The guitars are distorted almost to the point of static, the riffs are massive, pounding beasts with dissonant, higher pitched guitars adding to the sheer nastiness of the track. The vocals are hugely evil, low pitched and distorted. It's by far the heaviest thing Isis have ever done, and few bands would be able to match this song's hugeness. It's quite hard to really describe just how heavy this song is. This is followed up by Hand of Doom, which is a fairly good Sabbath cover, though it's not up to the Godflesh cover. Aaron Turner actually does a fairly decent job of singing Ozzy's vocals, but all in all, it's an just an ok cover.. nothing amazing.

So it's hard for me to recommend this. The Godflesh cover is awesome, the Black Sabbath cover is ok and so is House of Low Culture. 1 awesome song, 2 ok songs and 1 bad song. Not worth the money and time to track down. Worth downloading, though.