Devotees of post-metal are having a good month with new releases from the two giants of the genre, Neurosis and Isis. While the former have released a career highlight with Honor Found in Decay, Temporal is a collection of odds and sods (demos, remixes, covers, rarities) from the sadly defunct progenitors of post-metal. The band called it quits in 2010 stating that they had achieved all they wanted and the time had come for a “dignified death”. With a band this consistent and influential, even their leftovers are going to be worth a listen, right? So just how good is Temporal?
Although Isis evolved during their existence, influencing and being influenced by the likes of Neurosis, Cult of Luna and Tool, their fundamental sound is unmistakable. Expansive jams shift at an often glacial pace over song lengths of 7 minutes and upwards. In turns the prominent bass is mired in the wall of guitar noise and hardcore vocals then cuts through the haze with a dreamy treble reminiscent of early Cocteau Twins. Over the course of two CDs there’s nothing that will force a reevaluation of their music. Instead we have an appendix to their career, one that will be welcomed by existing fans.
The first disc is a collection of previously unreleased demos and alternate takes of tracks which have appeared on previous albums. Fittingly, Temporal begins with a demo of ‘Threshold of Transformation’, the last track on the swansong album Wavering Radiant. Isis were always a powerful live act so these stripped down versions are a treat, trimming the fat of overdubs away leaves these leaner, more organic versions. ‘Ghost Key’ is a standout with its foregrounding of that bass as a lead instrument. There’s a dip in sound quality for ‘Wills Dissolve’ to remind us these recordings were never intended for release but it’s still listenable and, more importantly, enjoyable.
A cover of Godflesh‘s ‘Streetcleaner’ introduces the second disc, taking the industrial metal of the original, filing down the sharp edges and adding a ton of toxic sludge on top. The cover of Black Sabbath‘s ‘Hand of Doom’ isn’t as successful but gives an insight into how these guys might have formed their sound as they jammed in a Boston garage. It’s a pretty straight pass through the seminal Paranoid track – a satisfying chug-a-long with a pretty uninspired solo. Like most covers, it’s fun but dispensable.
‘Not in Rivers, But in Drops’ is a remix of the song from In the Absence of Truth. The original sounded like a slowed-down sludge metal cover of Helmet‘s ‘Unsung’. Melvins and dark ambient artist Lustmord layers on the reverb to create a twisted alloy of Tool and dub. The ‘Holy Tears’ remix adds 5 minutes to the original 7 minute album track by extending and processing the quiet middle section and adding a fairly redundant drone outro. Title track ‘Temporal’ is a short ambient piece from 2009 with tremolo bass and indistinct vocal utterances.
‘Way Through Woven Branches’ and ‘Pliable Foe’ originally appeared on a 2010 split with Melvins. These are the best, most fully-formed tracks in the set and would have been at home on that last album. ’20 Minutes/40 Years’ is an acoustic version which adds nothing to the original.
If you’re reading this as a curious onlooker you’d be better off buying any of their full-length albums. Temporal is not a compilation that is likely to bring Isis to the attention of a new audience but it should serve to keep their name alive and, for the converted, is a worthwhile epilogue to the story of a sorely missed genre-defining band.
Isis’s Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/ISIS/158503560864483
Ipecac Recordings’ Website: http://www.ipecac.com