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'Fire as far as the eyes can see.' - 93%

Napalm_Satan, July 22nd, 2018

(Note: Whilst most versions of this EP feature their 1998 demo as tracks 4-7, these will be considered separately in a review of said release as I feel the two sets of tracks are different enough to warrant their own reviews. Hence this review will only cover the first 3 songs of the 7 track release, or the only 3 songs on the 1999 vinyl release.)

Isis were always a band in transition - if one wasn't aware of the artists at work at all they could be forgiven for thinking Celestial was written by a completely different band to In the Absence of Truth, even though they were written by the same 5 people. In general, their adjacent releases sound noticeably different to one another too, as they would evolve substantially with each release. It's for these reasons that earlier Isis releases would be surprising to many: for one, their earliest work (their demo, EPs and Celestial) sound nothing like what most associate with the band. In addition, the evolution of their sound across this stage of their career was much smaller than say, the leap between Celestial and Oceanic. This brings us to The Red Sea, which exemplifies these traits.

In general, these are among the heaviest and most extreme songs the band would ever produce. It can be easy to forget that before the post-rock and progressive metal/rock influence crept into their music Isis were making searingly heavy sludge metal. Across this release there are many examples of excellent sludge metal riffing whether they're going for a brutal and chaotic feel that leans towards hardcore, or a tense and droning style that leans towards doom metal. The drums are a similar story - complementing the riffs perfectly no matter what tempo and no matter what atmosphere the band are trying to achieve. The sound of the music is a bottom-heavy and thick one and the instruments sound crisp and loud - the guitar tone is a vast and sludgy mass and the drums crash into the front of the mix, giving the music the sonic clarity and weight it needs. The vocals take something of a back seat in the mix but that doesn't rob them of their presence in the music. Aaron's vocal performance here is a distorted, raspy shriek - none of the shouts, growls or cleans heard on later albums are anywhere to be found. He sounds even more intense than what he was doing on Mosquito Control, and matches the sheer power of the instruments.

Even though this is their shortest ever release - a mere 15 minutes comprised of 3 tracks - there is a surprising level of variety across them. 'Charmicarmicarmicat Shines to Earth' is a noisy intro piece that is reminiscent of 'Emission of the Signal' from Sawblade: it's less than 2 and a half minutes of a very slow and ringing sludge metal riff while Aaron shouts over it in a distorted, booming voice. It's a powerful way to set the stage for what's to come and a very intense track in its own right. 'The Minus Times' begins with a rather fast and frenetic passage before settling into a crushing mid-tempo groove that still brings frequent change-ups in the riffs. It listens like a much better produced and more refined version of a track from their demo, and is the single most brutal thing the band has ever written. By contrast, the title track is an epic that is akin to the more elaborate and atmospheric style witnessed on Celestial. Starting with a slow, droning riff it progresses to more mid-tempo territory over the course of 3 and a half minutes before suddenly giving way to a lone acoustic melody. Samples are slowly faded into the music before the band comes crashing in again, with the guitars playing an electric rendition of the acoustic melody. This continues to the end of the track and makes for an impactful ending to both the track and the EP. This song also marks the first time Isis' music focused more on atmosphere than outright heaviness, and for this reason it is the most important track for their development in their catalogue.

The Red Sea is probably the most transitional Isis release despite its brief duration, bringing together a more refined form of the style used on their demo and the style that would set the stage for their later, better known albums. This gives the release a pleasing circularity to it - being a final sendoff to that older style while initiating the transition to something new. It may not have the same level of sonic and conceptual unity of other Isis albums but it does contain two of their finest songs and it's a watershed moment in their discography. If these aren't good enough reasons to get this I don't know what is.

Excellent Sludge stuff. - 85%

caspian, January 21st, 2005

I'm redoing my review because the last one of it was SHITE.

One thing that you don't typically associate with Isis these days is the phrase 'Crushing sludge riffage'. Panoption was heavy once in a while but tended to go for more of a wall of sound feel, whereas ITAOT pretty much failed at all the heavy parts. It's sad that the heavy, more metallic parts of Isis's music has slowly been filtered out over the years.

So it's nice to be able to return to EPs like this one, from way back in the day when Isis were kind of a sludgier, crustier version of Neurosis with their songs mainly consisting of epic, planet destroying riffs that just shat on your head AGAIN AND AGAIN.

Yep, this is some heavy and brutal stuff. 'Charmicarmicat' is rather strange in it's perplexing, completely unstructured noise, and it sets the tone (to an extent, anyway) of what's to come later on in the EP. Ignoring the rather unnecessary samples, 'The Minus times' and the title track offer up some really quality riffs. It's rather hard to say much else but 'these riffs are super distorted, slow and really crushing', but that's basically all there is to say, really. For those only familiar with Isis's later work, imagine Celestial sped up a bit, and given a much, I guess "Spikier" guitar tone.

Needless to say, those looking for epic guitar atmospherics won't find much to love here- there's a bit of a concession in the mellow part of the title track, but otherwise this is sludge with some seriously massive riffs- the final riff of the title track would be up there with Hym as the most epic thing Isis have ever done, just a massive, massive riff.

Also, it's worth noting that Isis slapped their '98 demo on here as well. I didn't originally have that with my version, but I've heard it since and it sounds pretty damn huge. It's basically the same as the rest of this EP but perhaps a little bit simpler, Isis finding one or two huge riffs and just plugging away at them, nice stuff indeed. Combined with the excellent sludge of the Red Sea songs, it's a very enjoyable package, full of epic riffs and not much else.

Isis - The early days - 85%

damaramou, January 15th, 2005

Fans of Isis’ later works may find this EP quite surprising, shocking even. There are none of those wonderfully melodic and light guitar riffs, or quiet passages, neither is there sound as progressive. But this isn’t a bad thing; this EP is similar in sound to Celestial, but overall it’s much dirtier, with a really thick sludgy sound that makes this EP quite a heavy and intense listen, especially compared to Panopticon or Oceanic.

The first element that will strike you is the jarring, twisted, razor sharp riffs that go straight for the jugular. The guitars are constantly jamming away and you can clearly hear that layered, interwoven sound that Isis has now perfected. Underneath the guitars is a very sludgy and thick bass line that gives the music its dirty sound, it can be heard throughout the EP clearly and really makes the music flow really nicely.

Backing this all up is some very strong drumming, whilst not overly complex, it’s no where near as repetitive as the drum work on Isis’ later albums can be. The drummers pace is generally faster than in modern day Isis, but never goes above mid-tempo.

Vocal wise, Aaron turners drowned out vocals are as savage as ever, and are prevalent throughout most songs, which is certainly a good thing as I’ve always thought he’s a great vocalist. He definitely sounds much more pissed than on there later works.

So basically, what we have here is a rawer, sludgier, and less repetitive Isis, that goes straight for the throat and doesn’t let go until the tracks done, as opposed to the calming, soothing sound on there recent releases. Some samples from Natural born killers are used as intros for some of the song, which makes a nice change from the usual horror movie samples I’m generally used too (being a big brutal DM fan). Fans of this EP should also check out the Mosquito control EP, as it’s even rawer than this one.