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Music / Isis

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"Our skin worn thin
Our bones exposed
Life reduced to ticks

From forest caves and azure skies
We crashed upon this earth
The years they passed and so did we
But resistance would be brought"
"So Did We"

Isis was an American metal band founded in Boston, Massachusetts in 1997, though they eventually based themselves in Los Angeles. They were one of the leaders of the "post-metal" movement, alongside Pelican, Cult of Luna and Trope Makers Neurosis. Like those bands, Isis are known for writing lengthy songs that fuse Sludge Metal with Post-Rock.

Starting off as a very similar band to Neurosis, since their album Oceanic Isis have become one of the most popular and influential of the post-metal bands, possibly the most popular and influential. In 2010, they announced their decision to break up following their final tour.

Last Known Lineup:

  • Aaron Turner (vocals, guitar)
  • Michael Gallagher (guitar)
  • Jeff Caxide (bass)
  • Aaron Harris (drums)
  • Bryant Clifford Meyer (electronics, keyboards, guitar, vocals)

Core Discography (they have many, many more releases; Metal Archives has a complete list)

  • The Mosquito Control (EP), 1998
  • The Red Sea (EP), 1999
  • Sawblade (EP), 1999
  • Celestial, 2000
  • SGNL>05 (EP), 2001
  • Oceanic, 2002
  • Panopticon, 2004
  • In the Absence of Truth, 2006
  • Wavering Radiant, 2009

Tropes that apply to Isis:

  • Album Intro Track: "SGNL>01" on Celestial and "SGNL>05 (Final Transmission)" on, well, SGNL>05.
  • Album Title Drop: "Hym" has one for Oceanic:
    Love flows fears no window minds time oceanic.
  • BolĂ©ro Effect: As a post-metal band, their use of this trope was inevitable. "Weight" is an excellent example.
  • Bookends: Celestial and SGNL>05 effectively have this when played together: After a brief intro, Celestial opens with "Celestial (The Tower)", while SGNL>05 closes with "Celestial (Signal Fills the Void)", a remix of the aforementioned by Justin K. Broadrick of Napalm Death, Godflesh, and Jesu fame.
  • Breather Episode: Several of them. The "SGNL" tracks function as these on Celestial and SGNL>05, for example. The segment of Oceanic from the untitled track to "Weight" also qualifies, as do "Backlit" and "Altered Course" on Panopticon (these aren't that much less heavy than the surrounding material, but are substantially more upbeat).
  • Broken Record: There are only two lines in "Weight", the first of which is repeated for about half of the song and the second of which is repeated for the last minute or two.
  • Canon Discontinuity: They don't consider Sawblade to be an official release because it was released in extremely limited quantities. Two of the songs on it were later re-released on other releases, but the two originals do not appear to be available elsewhere.
  • Concept Album: Every one of the band's full length albums qualifies, and arguably their EPs (apart from Sawblade) all have a linking theme as well. Furthermore, the band's work is full of Call Backs and Call Forwards that arguably make their entire recorded body of work a continuous concept suite.
    • Celestial uses the idea of a central "mother" control tower which is built, decays, and eventually (on the sequel SGNL>05 EP) crumbles. The album also deals with concerns about the erosion of privacy, which would be revisited on Panopticon.
    • Oceanic is the most obvious; it concerns a man who falls in love with a woman, only to find out she's been a willing participant in Brother–Sister Incest for most of her life. He eventually passes the Despair Event Horizon and is Driven to Suicide.
    • Panopticon is mostly about its namesake, a concept for a prison by Jeremy Bentham in which prison guards would be able to view all prisoners, who were unable to view the guards back. This is used as a metaphor for modern society. The record also invokes the writings of Michel Foucault, who wrote extensively about this tendency in not merely prisons but also the army, the school, the hospital, the factory, and other modern hierarchical institutions. More recently, the concept has been used to describe the Internet. The liner notes quote technology writer Howard Rheingold and futurist Alex Steffen, who discuss their concern with the prevalence of surveillance in modern society. (The Black Metal band Panopticon is, incidentally, named after the same concept).
    • Later records are also apparently concept albums, but Turner has been more reticent about discussing what the concepts are (and initially did not even reveal the lyrics). He commented, "I feel there's a lot of emphasis these days placed on explaining everything in such a fashion that there's really nothing left for the listener or reader to explore themselves. It's all spelled out. So it's interesting to leave some of that stuff open-ended so they have do to a little bit of legwork themselves".
      • Themes apparently explored in In the Absence of Truth include the Hashshashin (Assassins) and their founder Hassan-i Sabbah, Don Quixote, House of Leaves, and Jorge Luis Borges' Labyrinths. It was also inspired by a book on Nazi Minister of Arms Albert Speer and the way society has "a tendency to portray the enemy as very one-sided and one-dimensional". The nebulous explanation of the record's concept was apparently thematically linked to the concept itself; drummer Aaron Harris commented that the album is based "on personal perception of anything [...] and what's true and what's not true". The title of the album is derived from Sabbah's famous quote, "Nothing is true, everything is permitted".
      • The concept of Wavering Radiant is even less clear, but appears to be inspired by Carl Jung and dreams. Turner described the album as a "path of exploration", and reviewers commented that it appeared Turner "has left our world behind for exploration of another beyond the lives led by mortal men".
  • Cover Version: They have covered Godflesh's "Streetcleaner" and Black Sabbath's "Hand of Doom".
  • Distinct Double Album: An odd example. Celestial and SGNL>05 make up two halves of one due to the fact that the band didn't want to release a double album as its first full-length release. The releases are thematically connected, anyway (in addition to the tower story of the former being continued on the latter, the latter contains a remix of the title track from the former; the former has "Deconstructing Towers" while the latter has "Constructing Towers"; etc.)
  • Downer Ending: Oceanic. Lyrically, anyway.
  • The Dulcinea Effect: The song "Dulcinea", natch.
  • Epic Instrumental Opener: As a Post-Rock band, many of their songs have these.
  • Epic Rocking: Their average song is probably about 8-9 minutes long. Their longest song in their core discography is "Relocation Swarm" from Mosquito Control and the longest studio track overall is "Grey Divide" from the posthumous Temporal compilation, which runs for 16:34. Live performances of songs were known to stretch even longer; there is one version of "Altered Course" on a bootleg that runs for at least twenty minutes (and then there's a ten minute ambient outro after that). On official recordings, the live version of "Celestial" on Live.02 extends for 17:25.
  • Erudite Stoner: Aaron Turner commented that he gave up smoking marijuana in 2008, which means that before then, he qualified as this.
  • Fading into the Next Song: They have used this extensively on some albums. Celestial and Panopticon use it particularly frequently, but it can be found on other releases too (particularly with the instrumental interludes that often appear in the centres of their full-lengths).
  • Indecipherable Lyrics: Got easier to decipher in later years, but still remained quite difficult.
  • Instrumentals: "Altered Course", all of the "SGNL" tracks, "Deconstructing Towers", the untitled track on Oceanic, "Maritime", "All Out of Time, All Into Space", "Firdous e Bareen", "Wavering Radiant", "House of Low Culture", "Emission of the Signal", "Grey Divide", "Temporal" "20 Minutes / 40 Years (acoustic version)". Many of their other songs are nearly instrumental, with vocals for only one or two minutes of frequently very long running times.
  • Limited Lyrics Song: Most of their songs, especially on Panopticon. "Weight" contains only two lines, repeated throughout the song.
    • The song with the smallest amount of time where vocals are used is probably "Over Root and Thorn", from In the Absence of Truth, though.
  • Long Runner Lineup: Type B: the line-up was stable starting at 2000, and lasted for around ten years before the band broke up.
  • Lyrical Cold Open: "So Did We" sounds like it starts in the middle.
    • "Threshold of Transformation" is another example
  • Lyrical Dissonance: If you didn't listen to the lyrics, you'd probably never guess that the main character in Oceanic is Driven to Suicide.
  • Mini Scule Rocking: The untitled track from Oceanic (2:06) and "Wavering Radient" (1:49). Also, the "SGNL" tracks from Celestial.
  • No Title: One of the tracks on Oceanic is titled simply with a dash.
  • One-Steve Limit: Averted; as you can see above, there were two Aarons in the final lineup.
  • Post-Rock: Specifically, Trope Codifier for the Post-Metal subgenre.
  • Rearrange the Song: Justin K. Broadrick of Godflesh and Jesu was invited to remix the title track of Celestial for the band's SGNL>05 EP. The band later invited a whole host of diverse musicians to remix Oceanic, which was released as a two-disc set.
  • Sinister Surveillance: A common theme in the band's music, and what inspired the name of their third album Panopticon.
  • Sludge Metal: Trope Codifier for the subgenre known as post-metal, which is effectively what you get when you cross sludge with post-rock.
  • Soprano and Gravel: Aaron Turner is a one-man example, switching between a hardcore-influenced growl and mellow clean singing. The band also used female vocals on some tracks, such as "Carry" and "Weight".
  • Spiritual Successor: Palms, a supergroup with former ISIS members Jeff Caxide, Aaron Harris, and Bryant Clifford Meyer and current Deftones vocalist Chino Moreno. Aaron Turner's Sumac has also been cited as an example of this, while Old Man Gloom (another project of Turner's) has also been compared to Isis (though it coexisted with Isis, so it is not strictly an example of this trope; it has actually been around for nearly two decades, meaning that by now it has actually been in existence for longer than Isis was).
  • Spoken Word in Music: Used in "Relocation Swarm" from Mosquito Control and "Red Sea" and "The Minus Times" from The Red Sea.
  • Title Track: "Wavering Radient" from, of course, Wavering Radient. Interestingy, the album's name is given to a short interlude between "Hand of the Host" and "Stone to Wake a Serpent", rather than a standout track. The collection album Temporal is a similar case. Also, "Red Sea" from The Red Sea.
  • Trope Codifier / Genre Popularizer: For post-metal, probably.
  • Uncommon Time: Used frequently. "Hall of the Dead", for example, is in 5/4, as is most of "Hym". Other songs get more complicated, such as "Wills Dissolve", which has several time signature changes.