Friday, August 12, 2011

Isis - Oceanic (2002)

Oceanic, which was released in 2002, is the strong sophomore album from Isis. The album is almost uniformly tighter and less derivative than their previous effort. While Celestial can be accused of Neurosis worship, this record adds a healthy dose of originality to the formula. Gone are the interludes that contribute little to the coherence of the album (from a musical standpoint, at least). They have also toned down the dull chugging that dominates Celestial.

This album starts heavy and stays relatively crushing throughout. The first track, "The Beginning and the End," is a fan favorite, and it's easy to see why. It vacillates between heavy and soft without feeling like a gimmick: the quieter sections heighten the mood by reinterpreting the heavier themes rather than providing filler. This track also shows Isis taking the wall of sound aesthetic a step forward by including complementary guitar lines rather than identical ones, and the parts fit together well.

However, it's not all wine and roses. While this album is certainly superior to Celestial, it still falls short as an album. Although this record is much more coherent than Celestial, portions of it are downright boring. While the second track, "The Other," is one of the heavier songs on the album, I still want to nap every time it comes on. There is little variation here, much to its detriment. I don't mind repetition if it's being used to build towards a certain theme or idea, but that is not the case here. The next track, "False Light" gets it right, but many others, particularly the heavier ones, do not.

The highlights of the album tend to be the more pensive, slower racks that crescendo from a soft melody to a wall of sound, as is the case with "Carry," "Hym," and "Weight," the last of which is my personal favorite. Honestly, "Weight" stands on its own and is an indication of the sophisticated song writing Isis is capable of when everything comes together. Maria Christopher (from 27) does guest vocals on this track, and they are a welcome addition to the sound, as is the more audible bass which starts driving the song a little less than halfway through. The vocals and riffs have a neat looping pattern that Isis would later use to great effect on future albums.

While many will argue that this is Isis's finest hour, I can't help but disagree. There is a lot to like here, but this would not be my first (or second) choice if choosing an album from Isis's catalog.
Verdict: Win [7.5/10]

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