On Second Thought: Isis – Oceanic (2004)

Some days, it’s a song; some days, it’s an entire album. There’s been more “album” days than “song” days lately, possibly because much of the stuff I tend to listen to doesn’t work well as single tracks. Isis’ Oceania was no different, owing to the very long, intense drones the band sets up.

Like much of what I’ve been listening to lately, this fell under the category of “metal following in the footsteps of Neurosis.” I guess I basically consider myself a metal fan at my core, but more of the “intelligent” metal than of what most people associate with the genre — not that I consider most of it dumb. (Well, there is a good amount of it that is, but that goes for most musical genres.) I equate the intelligence in this case with a desire to not simply “rock out” but to find a deeper spiritual meaning behind the music, something that will drive it forward.

That the vocals were roared out in a distant voice meant little to me: It was just another instrument in the case of bands like this and, with the way everything was layered, it was harder to pinpoint them in the mix. It was intentional, just as the heavy use of feedback and slowly rotating riffs. The effect was a mesmerizing listen, especially after a tiring day.

Some prefer soft, pretty new-age fluffiness to work out those “long day kinks.” Me? I need something that slowly pummels away at the gritty layers of tension and irritation that comprise some days (and weeks). The music of Isis, or of Neurosis, Godflesh, Pelican, and others I’ve yet to uncover, this music chugs slowly ahead in an hypnotic fashion, making an art out of repetition.

It’s cathartic, and it’s unfortunate that so many ears are closed to how powerfully effective music like this can be. “Ambience” doesn’t have to mean natural sounds: It just means something that creates its own atmosphere. Spiritual music doesn’t have to conform to the notion that “spirit” equates wafting, cloud-like sounds — traditional “ambient” hallmarks. Guitars and heavy distortion can do a fine job by themselves.

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Tom Johnson

Tom Johnson has contributed to Blogcritics, and maintained a series of stand-alone sites including Known Johnson, Everything is a Mess and others. He studied both creative writing and then studio art at Arizona State. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.