It's hard for me not to interject a personal note whenever discussing ISIS, so humor me a minute, if you will. To me, this was never a "post metal" band, a stupid, supercilious term I've always objected to in the first place. ISIS was an empirical, cinematic symposium of darkness and light, a sterling example of third eye artistry that may have had too much colliding talent to sustain the group's longevity. Their breakup stung me hard and I was privileged to be there at one of their final gigs a few years ago, just as I'm grateful for all the interviews the band gave me over the years. ISIS' music has the capacity to mend wilting fragments of my soul whenever they tatter and I've clung to ISIS' albums in times of anger and desperation because I know I'll feel purged on the other end of "Celestial", "Oceanic", "In the Absence of Truth" or "Wavering Radiant". Yes, goddammit, I'm a fan, sue me.
In many ways, the breakup of ISIS was brilliant in the way THE BEATLES' breakup was. No comparison needed between the two bands, the point is that ISIS had reached the pinnacle of their explorative vision with 2009's "Wavering Radiant", thus it was logical for them to lay the band down. It was painful for their followers and while we still have PELICAN, LONG DISTANCE CALLING, ROSETTA, MOUTH OF THE ARCHITECT, BALBOA and, of course, the sovereigns of this freeform, escapist metal, NEUROSIS, the departure of ISIS leaves a void only they can fill.
"Temporal" isn't so much a cash grab, basement-assembled retrospective, even if there are some grimy demos served up here, the best being the never-released 16-minute "Grey Divide". Instead, the double album "Temporal" offers ISIS' devout some familiars in scratch form, some remixes and B-sides plus a third disc of videos.
In the case of the demos, ISIS' main purpose is to shine some light upon their creative process, which requires the listener to know the final product in order to fully appreciate the labor and the extension that went into the band's craft. As one can detect from the prolonged version of "Threshold of Transformation" (already ten minutes on "Wavering Radiant"), there was much dissected from the final cut and it's a treat hearing that subjectivity play itself out from this demo version. Even the raw clutter prevailing over the demo for "Wills Dissolve" from "Panopticon" gives a rare nuance of actually sitting in the studio with ISIS and witnessing them mathematically tinker with the spritely verse lines for some sense of cohesion before whumping on the distortion pedals and basking themselves in the sonic mists of their own design.
The "False Light" and "Carry" demos are brackish peeks into the genius that gave birth to the "Oceanic" album and one nearly drowns as effectively in these primitive takes as the polished album tracks. Aaron Turner's screaming on "Carry" is so devastating he's felt more than heard. The "Grey Divide" demo is one of the must-hear moments on "Temporal", not just for its newness to ISIS fans, but because it represents the full altruistic sharing of collective theories amongst the band members. What might've been; you can't help but say it as you listen. The primary guitar lines may come off as conversant compared to everything else ISIS has written, which may have been one of the reasons it got shelved in the first place. However, the morose back melodies, the extensive coldwave pitted against angelic key notes and finally the explosive, lumbering ostinato towards the back end of "Grey Divide" reveals a gem in the making that deserves a revisit, even if that prospect may never come.
The B-side rarities are just as stunning, particularly if you've never been able to get your mits on the MELVINS-ISIS split or the ultra-rare "Sawblade" EP (or "Buzzsaw" EP to those lucky enough to own one of the 200 copies). "Pliable Foe" and "Way Through Woven Branches" are exquisite and come off as healing stones for anyone in need of a lift. ISIS serves up tribute to one of their primary influences, GODFLESH with a crunky, near-satanic cover of "Streetcleaner" and then they nearly outdo 1000 HOMO DJs with their industrial rip on BLACK SABBATH's "Hand of Doom".
As far as the remixes go, the "Holy Tears" expansion by Thomas Dimuzio wasn't really necessary since that cut was perfect as one of the few accessible songs ISIS ever recorded. However, the MELVINS and LUSTMORD's tackling of "Not In Rivers, But In Drops" is simply killer. One can't help but wish for a remix of the seductive "Low Tide" from the ISIS/AEREOGRAMME square-off on "In the Fishtank 14", but let's not get too greedy. At least the vocals-stripped version of "Ghost Key" allows listeners a deeper plunge into the instrumentation behind that effervescent-turned-ugly epic. The wrenching acoustic version of "20 Minutes/40 Years" weaves a fitting finale to "Temporal", and to ISIS' career, as it were. In a way, this entire venture is superior to the "Oceanic Remixes/Interpretations" from 2005, groundbreaking as that was.
If you share the view that ISIS called it a day way too soon, many will join you in that opinion. Nevertheless, the mutual respect for one another combined with the spread-out distance of the members who have mostly scattered from their primary home base of Boston put a metal legend into the dirt and we have to live with it. Never say never to the possibility of a reunion, but "Temporal" feels very much like the erection of the sepulture on ISIS' resting plot as much as it resounds as a fond remembrance piece.
- Ray Van Horn, Jr.