Atmospheric. Cerebral. Monolithic. Many adjectives have been thrown around throughout the past eight years in an attempt to describe ISIS’ sometimes-serene/ ofttimes-crushing avant-garde, post-metal experiments in sonic density. Arising from the Boston area in the late ’90s, ISIS (composed of bassist Jeff Caxide, guitarist Mike Gallagher, drummer Aaron Harris, electronics coordinator/guitarist Cliff Meyer, and vocalist/guitarist Aaron Turner) quickly commanded the attention of the hardcore/metal community with their debut EP Mosquito Control, in which they constructed a highly textural, yet oppressively heavy sound from the foundation laid by bands such as the Melvins, Godflesh, and Neurosis. Continuing through albums such as 2001’s critically acclaimed Celestial, and up into their latest release Panopticon, ISIS have quite obviously evolved from a group embraced solely by the open-minded (and albeit marginally populated) segments of the heavy music community to becoming a name often praised by music aficionados in general for their inventive and multi-faceted brand of audile art. With the success of the previously mentioned, Ipecac-released, Panopticon, numerous live dates both in the States and abroad, and highly gossiped about, illustrious collaborations with members from some pretty high-profile acts (TOOL?), ISIS seem poised to garner even more praise, and accumulate even more attention, than what would have been possible not even five years ago, when the collective public palette seemed completely disinterested in pensive, dynamic heavy music.
“The peripheral is really important to us,” vocalist/guitarist Aaron Turner expresses when asked about the multi-layered, and incredibly nuanced, sound ISIS is regularly celebrated for. ”Injecting an element of mystery into the music is one of the things that we try to focus on the most: the little things that reveal themselves after repeat listens, that are suggested rather than obvious, the nuances that are sensed rather than heard immediately. From the very beginning, we’ve made it a point to play more with inventive structures, to steer clear of the verse/chorus/verse/chorus routine. We don’t emphasize vocals. We don’t really have anything that could be called a solo. These things — these aspects of rock music — don’t really interest us.”
Listening to previous efforts such as the Red Sea, and then putting on latter-era ISIS i.e. Oceanic or Panopticon, it’s remarkable how much the band has moved out and away from the confines of hardcore/metal-based music and into a more progressive realm where a much greater dynamic range is covered and emotions are explored beyond the requisite discontent found in most bands that down tune their guitars and pummel their drum sets. Concerning this growth, Turner comments, “I think our evolution has been steady and fairly constant. From our inception, the more we wrote the more we gravitated toward progressive structures — concentrating more on atmosphere, melody, and texture — while focusing less on the ‘bludgeoning riff approach,’ though that’s still a definite part of our repertoire. It’s more cerebral now. With time we’ve gained a lot more control over our instruments, and we’ve exerted a little more restraint while focusing more on subtlety.”
ISIS’ preoccupation with covering more sonic ground than many of their peers has made Ipecac Records (the label founded by left-of-center musical guru Mike Patton of Faith No More, Mr. Bungle, Fantomas, Tomahawk fame) a logical home for the band — as well as a great conduit for further exposure. “After years of working with numerous labels, the time came when we felt like we needed a home,” Turner explains. “The other labels we worked with were extremely supportive, but had limited reach in terms of distribution. Ipecac is, for us, a very good middle ground. It’s not the bloated excess of a major label; but they have a really good reach, a really good business philosophy, and a great aesthetic. Plus, our label mates keep us from being easily pigeon-holed like we would if we shared a label with just metal-based bands.”
Currently ISIS is gearing up to hit the Sound City studios with producer Joe Barresi (Queens of the Stone Age, Bad Religion) to record their fourth full-length release, an album that they have been multitrack demo-ing in their rehearsal spot — a tactic they are just now employing in the pre-production stage. “In the past, when we had worked with Matt Bayles, we never had any demo-ed versions of our songs — nothing of listenable quality. So when we went into the studio we were going in blind to a certain extent. He did a great job of putting our tones together — balancing them and representing us. With this record, we are recording more on our own, which has helped us gain greater insight into how to achieve the sounds that are in our heads.”
Considering the products of past efforts, and collaboration this exquisite, how can the listening public be anything short of anxious?