ISIS — Oceanic (review)

ISIS — Oceanic album cover Album · 2002 · Atmospheric Sludge Metal Buy this album from MMA partners
4/5 ·
The Angry Scotsman
One of the most influential albums in underground metal.

This is the album that created the genre of post-metal, as we know it. Even in the metal community, post-metal is a genre that is fairly obscure. It's roots lie with the music of Neurosis, the atmosphere of Tool and grew from the sludge...was assembled by Cult of Luna, Pelican and earlier works by Isis, but this was the album that truly defined the genre of post metal.

If you want to understand what post metal is, then listen to Oceanic. This album is about creating atmosphere rather than musical showmanship.

Oceanic is heavy, very. In fact it takes metal to a very pure form. The frills of speed are completely removed, and even riffing is absent as the guitar playing is built almost entirely on chords. Heavy, dense walls of chords. Wall is an accurate description since the music can be an amorphous sonic assault.

To a new listener it may sound the same, but when one really listens to the music you will see there is subtle progression. It's this progression, requiring a bit of a trained ear, patience and intellectual metal head that is the emphasis of the music. You will find no guitar solos on this album!

However, all the heaviness is contrasted with light sections. In fact the interplay of light and dark, usually a few times within each song, is the staple of post metal, soon to be beaten to death.

This is another important aspect of post metal, its unorthodox song structure. There are no verse-chorus songs here. Genres such as thrash and death metal feature structures that change abruptly, extremely and are usually complex, (if not anarchic). Oceanic makes theirs brutally simple: heavy, light. Lengthy songs, moving at a moderate pace alternating between sonic barrages and mellow ambient interludes reminiscent of Tool, or Pink Floyd and can be surprisingly dense in their gentle way. Of course, there is a bit more than this. Overall, the songs tend to move, gradually progressing to their climax (whatever it may be) even if several hills and valleys have to be traversed.

Turners vocals are hoarse barks, placed throughout the album and buried a bit in the music. This combination makes it impossible to decipher, but functions as a wonderful aesthetic to the music. Also makes them much more tolerable than usual. Pepper on some simple, slightly off kilter drumming that seem to continue pummeling along regardless and you have one extremely intriguing album.

Apart from the occasional interlude, no song stands out on this album. In fact they all are quite samey. Of course each is unique, and attention is needed for this, but overall every song follows the same structure. A bit formulaic, even if the numbers change. 2+2 or 1+3 either way they equal 4.

Very influential album, and a great one at that. If you are a fan of progressive metal, or want a challenge this album should be high on the list. As dense and heavy as the ocean, sometimes as gentle and soothing. Great album.

Four Stars
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