By Danny Contreras
When Isis first burst on to the metal scene in 1997 on the heels of the hardcore revival in New England, they wowed critics with their progressive influences and 80s metal attitude. In a nutshell, they were everything Dream Theater wanted to be but just couldn’t pull off. Isis basically proved to the USA that progressive metal could be as dark and heavy while keeping their virtuoso writing.
Nevertheless, the band broke up in 2010 after ten years of masterful productions and a lengthy legacy of amazing songwriting. Fast-forward to 2012 and the independent Ipecac Recordings has released a best of Isis compilation in Temporal, an album that instead of giving the essentials of a legendary band, gives fans and new listeners more reason to loathe their break-up.
The double disc album is a rare collection of the band with demo versions of songs such as “False Light” and “Grey Divide”. The second half, however, brings forth the most experimental side of the band with covers of Black Sabbath and Godflesh part of their last EP with The Melvins.
While the sonic aesthetics are lacking because they’re not remastered, it is an enjoyable album that proves why they have influenced bands such as Explosions in the Sky, Melvins and Neurosis (albeit their later stuff).
By far their greatest song, the epic “Grey Divide” demo version sounds amazing. While it is hard to discern the sound they have been attached with, one can hear their ideas fully. Aaron Turney and Jeff Caxide are by far the best musicians throughout the whole song.
Caxide plays the bass as if he sat in a Chicago bar listening to blues on a rainy night. While drums usually keep the beat going, Caxide takes the idea of bass driven beat to a level usually experienced in electronic music. To not hear Pink Floyd in his playing would be a travesty given how much his plucking resembles the one found in Floyds’s Animal and The Wall.
On the other hand, “Pliable Foe” gives the aforementioned song a run for its money with an intricate evolution from the very beginning. If Isis is known for anything it is their amazing ability at making repetitive songs evolve. Another epic behemoth, “Pliable Foe,” showcases the best of the band.
Caxide stands out as one of the best bassist in the genre, however, it is Aaron Harris who steals the show with Bryant Meyer backing him up. If there is ever a blueprint for progressive metal it is Harris. Every part of the song and every individual instrument is following a different signature at any given time. Nevertheless, Harris is the one who stands out due to his ability to keep a constant signature throughout the song and backing up his mates.
Temporal is ultimately a compilation album. One cannot compare it to their discography because these songs have all been released. Yet, one can’t help but wonder what would happen if they hadn’t broken up and released this album. Last year, Swedish progressive death metal band Opeth, raised the level of progressive music with their incredible Heritage, but someone forgot to tell them that Isis had previously done it when they were still stuck in Sweden.