Uncommon music criticized by the common man. (Or, exercises in futility masquerading as critical thought.)

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Recent additions to the music collection:

Phil The Agony Aromatic (2004)
Mastadon Leviathan (2004)
Dysrhythmia No Interference (2001)
Isis Oceanic (2003) and Panopticon (2004)

Those last two were purchased last night from the merch table at the Isis/These Arms Are Snakes/Dysrhythmia show. Friends and foes, if you get a chance to catch Isis live, you absolutely must go.

But let's begin at the beginning. Dysrhythmia kicked the night off right with their brand of complex, proggy, math-metal. (Ugh...critical shorthand.) As overbearingly academic as some of this kind of music can be, in this band's hands, it kills. As it turns out, this is a relatively new line-up, with Colin Marston (of Behold ...the Arctopus and Infidel?/Castro!) now on bass. All three of the bands members are amazing musicians, but I was really impressed by Mr. Marston's playing, which was dizzying and rocking all at once. He really fits the bands sound well, and I'm looking forward to their first recording with him on board. And I do not mean that as a knock on departed Clayton Ingerson, who was pretty superb in his own right. But after last night's too brief performance, I'm very eager to see where the band is going.

These Arms Are Snakes, a band about whom I knew nothing, were up next. I must say, they were nothing like I expected. Given the other two bands on the bill, I was figuring on something heavier. What I got was some hard hitting "rawk" with appropriately screamed/spit vocals. It took a song or two before they hit their groove (with me, anyway), but after that, I was into it, even if the singer's pseudo-Jagger/Bowie/Iggy choreography was a bit annoying. The band, while not the revelation I was hoping for, were good nonetheless, and I think I'll have to check out some of their recorded output.

Isis wrapped up the evening and...well, words fail me. It was one of the best live experiences I've seen in a long, long time. For those of you unfamiliar (and admittedly, beyond the stuff on Oceanic, which I didn't actually own until last night, I don't know too much), Isis' brand of metal is simply breathtaking. Isis play huge guitar epics that eschew monolithic noisiness for a more dynamic approach. Honestly, on first listen, I'm sure many people would not consider them metal at all, but more in line with the post-rock sturm und drang of bands like Mogwai (with whom Isis has actually shared a stage). What ties it to metal, however, is the absolute heaviness the band achieves when it reaches its climax, as well as singer/guitarist Aaron Turner's screaming, drill sergeant bark (with only the occasional sing-speak). Don't let the latter put you off, however, as vocals are few and far between.

Back to the show: Isis are as tight a unit as you're likely to see live. With very little verbal communication between its members, the band showed a nearly telepathic interplay that can only come from hours of rehearsal and months of touring. The guitarists (three of them) would play repeated figures that contrasted nicely from each other, building an incredible amount of tension, in much the same way godspeed you! black emperor does. However, while gy!be favors a more classical music bent as their songs unfold, Isis' guitar melodies are grounded firmly in the rock canon, though more atmospheric, redolent of Sigur Ros, or even the Cure (a name that seems to be coming up a lot lately in reviews for Panopticon). Also, when the songs crescendo, Isis' music remains cohesive, the riffs tightening and charging forward, rather than resorting to mere instrumental cacophony. By doing so, the sound makes a bigger impact. It's the difference between getting hit with a barrage of snowballs and being buried in an avalance: you may be able to flee from the former, but you have no choice but to be consumed by the latter. Isis' set closer (I believe it was "Altered Course" from Panopticon, but since I'm still learning their music, I may be wrong) was the clincher, as they must have stretched it out for over 15 minutes of exhilirating rock bliss, with not a second was wasted. At that point, tags like metal, or even rock, were unimportant, as the music became pure ecstasy. It was almost a shame to have an encore, because the ending was so perfect, but with a band as incredible as Isis, a little more is never a bad thing.