ISIS — Celestial (review)

ISIS — Celestial album cover Album · 2000 · Atmospheric Sludge Metal Buy this album from MMA partners
4.5/5 ·
siLLy puPPy
No, not the Middle East terrorist group or the Egyptian Goddess. This ISIS began creating its unique take on the earlier sludge metal sounds of Neurosis and Godflesh from the very start of its formation in 1997 and quickly released two EPs that showed considerable progress as well as a lengthy tour that allowed the band to hone its chops and introduce its potential to a wider audience but it wasn’t until the debut of the band’s first full-length album CELESTIAL that ISIS really started to catch the attention of the mainstream metal world internationally which resulted in the band actually touring with Neurosis and in many ways picking up the baton of the atmospheric sludge metal world as Neurosis itself was distancing itself from the earlier heaviness and drifting more into the atmospheric realms. On CELESTIAL, ISIS struck the perfect balance of the heavy hardcore influence sludge riffery with the electronic infused atmospheres that resulted in a totally unique post-metal experience.

Thematically the band continued its critique of power structures and deals with the erosion of privacy through technological advances. The album had depicted several different versions of cover art with the newer versions displaying towers that are designed to spy on our every move and perhaps even our very thoughts. These themes would remain a staple of the band’s explorations throughout its career until its ultimate demise in 2010. Following in the footsteps of Neurosis, ISIS released a sister EP titled “SGNL>5” the following year and was designed to be a companion piece to CELESTIAL. The works were an extension of the tracks on this album taken from various sessions and offer more variations in the themes and dynamics. The two releases have been released together as a deluxe version of CELESTIAL as well.

CELESTIAL is where all the promises of the past finally hook up to create the unique heady mix of surreal post-metal and bombastic sludge metal that ISIS made their own and in the process quickly launched themselves into the limelight as the best of the sludge scene. Having been the closest album to the early years that displayed a violent attack of hardcore distortion and guitar attacks, CELESTIAL is an interesting mix of bombastic guitar heft along with a much more developed display of electronic wizardry that sprawls out into continuous atmospheric streams of consciousness. Pretty much everything about ISIS took a leap of sophistication on CELESTIAL. The compositions are much more intricate with seemingly repetitive riffs decorated with subtle variations that seem to repeat four times before adding new elements. The band’s classic lineup was completed as Bryant Clifford Meyer replaced Jay Randall on electronics.

With a running time of 52 minutes, CELESTIAL debuted an epic run of tracks that slowly meander down post-metal alley. Lengthened and infused with creative call and response effects of guitar noise and electronics, this album perfectly displayed the fertile possibilities of fusing hardcore metal with electronic ambient effects. The music was also designed to display the themes. A perfect example is the guitar stomping bombast heard in “Deconstructing Towers” while a radiant whizzing of electronic chaos whizzes by in the background until the destruction is complete. In many ways, ISIS merged the heavy punk infused hardcore sounds with the repetitive surrealism of 70s Krautrock. The slow ratcheting up of subtle differences is right out of the A.R. & Machines playbook, Achim Reichel’s best known project.

With CELESTIAL, this Boston band essentially broke into the big boy’s club and created some essential metal listening experiences. Not by crafting melodic tracks that offered sing-along sessions but rather but taking a completely different approach. ISIS went for the complete experience route which means that the album is designed to consume as a whole run. Yes, it’s a lengthy commitment but not overly so. It really does unleash its magic with a few attentive listens that aren’t hurried. Comparisons to other metal bands won’t do either. CELESTIAL is essentially a post-rock album dressed up in metal attire.

While the cyclical loops and sprawling compositions are right out of the post-rock playbook, the themes and caustic bombast of guitars, bass and drums in tandem keep the band firmly placed in metal territory. CELESTIAL may have been a warm up for the more lauded “Oceanic” and “Panopticon,” however this album has a charm all its own and in many ways i prefer this album to the following examples of fan favorites. CELESTIAL climbs another rung of the post-metal ladder for ISIS and accepted on its own merits is a wonderfully dynamic musical experience that remains hypnotically seductive for the entire run despite bouts of extreme metal brutality and harsh noisy distortion lurking around every corner. The production is one of the key factors that segregates all the corresponding sounds into the proper roles. In short CELESTIAL is an amazing achievement of modern metal at its finest.
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