Forgotten Noughties #4: Isis, Oceanic


Ipecac, 2002

I’ll keep this brief: one, because it’s late, and two, because this isn’t an album that’s forgotten, as such. Though it’s far from held in the regard it could (should) be by the mainstream. Then based in Boston – they’d later relocate for the sunnier climes of California – Isis were admired for their debut long-player of 2000, Celestial, but generally seen as something of an avant-metal makeweight, a band for fans of Tool to consider not quite up to the standard of their favourites. Well, that’s how I saw them, from afar – knew the name, but the music didn’t make much of an impression (at the time). Oceanic changed that. A sprawling, complex work, it took the heaviness of preceding releases and passed a magnifying glass over the nuances previously buried in the mix. Some called it seminal. It has since been called a masterpiece. I saw the band play it in full at London’s Koko in 2006, and it was an experience I won’t ever forget. Yes, at its heart this is a concept record – but it lacks the prog-rock frills that are commonly associated with the tag. Instead, it forgoes fancy showboating for focused repetition, for few things done superbly well rather than a multitude half-baked. Songs draw you in, tumble you around spit you out. Each roar and groan, crack and swell, feels like something colossal – like a tectonic plate grinding against another, or the teeth of some fantastical behemoth – and the vocals, while following something of a narrative arc if read, are executed as if bellowed by a being far beyond this world. At times there’s no clue whatsoever as to the language being spoken, but the effect is mesmirising rather than alienating. Post-metal, some have termed this style, perfected on Oceanic and developed on the following Panopticon of 2004. I don’t know about that. “After metal” just doesn’t fit for me. This feels as if it has grown from a tributary all of its own, an evolutionary freak. As for the post-Oceanic scene: plenty have called on it for influence, and continue to do so to this day.

And yes, this blog is named after one of this album’s songs. My favourite, in fact, if I can allow myself to have one. I wrote rather more on it back in 2006 for – read those words here.

For fans of: Tool, Godflesh, Mogwai
Download: From Sinking, The Other, Hym

Isis – From Sinking (it’s all about when it kicks back in at 6.22)

Isis – Hym


One Response to Forgotten Noughties #4: Isis, Oceanic

  1. Rich says:

    I will take this opportunity to thank you Mr Diver for getting me into this marvellous, sadly departed, band! I remember reading your screed on it on DiS back in 2006 and investigating forthwith, I have not looked back! So, cheers for that!

    I vary between this and Panopticon as my favourite of theirs.

    So glad I got to see them live a couple of times too.

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