Thursday, August 4, 2011

Isis - Celestial [2000]

It’s hard to even put the name Isis out there without opening oneself up to over the top ranting raving. There is a lot of hyperbolic criticism on both ends of the spectrum for this band, but I feel that it may have died down a bit since their breakup in June of 2010. Given that it’s been over a year, it’s probably time for a retrospective.
Released in 2000, Celestial is the first full-length Isis put out after a string of EPs and Splits, and it shows as Celestial is rough around the edges. The band was just starting to refine the wall of sound their name has become synonymous with, and although there are some standout tracks here, this album is little more than a few good ideas held together with some spacey sound effects.
The intro track, entitled “SGNL 01,” is a minute of ambient noises and typing. It reminds me a bit of the X-Files episode in which Mulder goes to the jungles of Puerto Rico to find alien transmissions. It doesn’t much matter, though, because it gives way to “Celestial (The Tower),” which opens with a nice chugging bass and guitar riff and sound effects put to much better use than on the first track. The chugging continues and eventually gives way to a wall of sound as another guitar enters the equation and pounds out a single chord. This chord eventually morphs in to a riff after another minute and one of the best songs on the record is in full swing. Although this track lacks the polish of later, more memorable ISIS tracks, it’s nonetheless effective, and anyone not digging the record at this point may as well stop here as this is about as good as this album gets.
In a similar vein, “Swarm Reigns (Down)” (I don’t know what’s up with the parenthetical portions of the song titles, but I’m sure it’s way deep man), begins heavy and stays heavy throughout. A chugging riff evolves slowly to add vocals and tempo breaks punctuated by drum rolls. It’s more of the same, sure, but it’s rocking, so I can’t fault them too much. The vocals are typical for early era ISIS: fairly straightforward hardcore yells. Going back to this album, I have come to appreciate the extent to which Aaron Turner harmonizes on later albums. While Scott Kelly has this style down to a science on several Neurosis albums, Turner’s vocals are just kind of there, not adding much gravity or intensity to the album.
The next standout track is “Deconstructing Towers,” an instrumental track which begins with a riff that apes Tool’s Undertow era material. At about three minutes in, the song switches gears and moves in to another bit that sounds a lot like Tool’s “Third Eye.” In fact, “Deconstructing Towers” is pretty straight up Tool worship throughout, which isn’t a bad thing, but it isn’t much deeper than that.
This album is broken up with several interludes in the style of “SGNL 01,” including “SGNL 02,” “SGNL 03,” and “SGNL 04 (End Transmission),” which all sound a hell of a lot alike. They’re not bad, but they’re also not good; they’re just sort of there.
All in all, fans of Isis and the more hardcore offerings of Neurosis will likely find something to enjoy here. Isis is still searching for their sound and their voice, and, while they didn’t quite find it on this album, Celestial almost certainly laid the groundwork that made Oceanic, Panopticon, and In the Absence of Truth possible.
Verdict: Indifference [6.5/10]

1 comment:

autothrall said...

Couldn't agree more, man. All of their old EPs and this album were just droning, slowed down approximations of chug metalcore. Big craze around my parts, obviously, but the band didn't pick up until the next, 'Oceanic', a big improvement imo.