Everyone Should Listen to ISIS (The Band)
A few weeks after attending an ISIS show, I was out and about town, wearing my fancy ISIS Octopus shirt that I had ordered online. I was in line someplace or other, minding my own business when a woman approached me. She looked at my shirt, then at my face, back to my shirt and so on. I could see her puzzling out the connection between the words and the image. Then she smiled, opened her mouth and nodding her head said, “I get it. Is, is.”
As part of my association with the fan site, TOOLARMY, I met some of the coolest people in the world. Though it is very true than many people who fancy themselves TOOL devotees are complete arses, many of them are clever, funny, free thinking people who happen to enjoy the music of one particular band best. There are some among that TOOL community who refuse to listen to much of anything else and condemn, with violent derision, any other artist or person who might dare suggest one listen to something or someone else. Despite that, I owe my love of ISIS to my interactions in that community.
Getting to communicate with people all over the world can have its advantages. One person in particular, Peter Good, who lives in England, introduced me to ISIS just after the release of Oceanic. I had just learned to (poorly) play the guitar and was finding myself fascinated by how songs were constructed, the repetition, the build up and subtlety of a well put together track. One of the things I liked a great deal about TOOL was the length of their songs. Many came in at over 7 minutes, some much longer. ISIS fed into that love-long songs with building themes, repetitive sections, and an intensity I latched onto greedily.
Unlike TOOL, ISIS was prolific with their musical releases. With TOOL, it is not uncommon to wait half a decade or longer between releases. With the release of (my favorite) Panopticon in 2004, ISIS supplanted TOOL as my favorite music makers. I really liked Oceanic, but Panopticon is a near perfect record. Much more melodic than previous records, (even the vocals were toned down), it took the band to a different level, still heavy but at times soft and thoughtful, mixing more traditional singing with the usual (and sometimes preferred) guttural screaming and growling.
Just under two years later, ISIS released another record, then another three years after that. Numerous live records, splits with bands like Melvins, a few singles and a collaboration with Aereogramme, I ate them all up. I was completely shell shocked when they announced their break up in 2010, and ever so glad to have seen them one last time on the Wavering Radiant tour. I have written about that experience before and it still is one of my favorite concert moments. The vibe was so incredible, the entire crowd completely engrossed in the performance. No video of a show does it justice, though the live records are a close approximation.
I honestly think everyone should listen to them. They haven’t changed my life with their musical philosophy, made me question anything or altered my consciousness. They have provided me with some outstanding music, places where I can let my mind wander, long stretches of songs where I am free to experience whatever I will.
I try to share their music when I can. If you’re willing to give it a go, I am including links to some of my favorite songs, some from each ‘era’ of the bands development-stuff from when they were just pure heavy droning undeveloped bliss to their more melodic and intimately constructed moments. Both extremes are wonderful and while I tend to listen more to the later releases, I still love the early stuff as well.
Life Under the Swatter– From Mosquito Control.
Red Sea– From The Red Sea.
Celestial (The Tower)-From Celestial.
In Fiction– From Panopticon.
Dulcinea-From In the Absence of Truth “nothing is true, everything is permitted”.
Hand of the Host-From Wavering Radiant.
The Pliable Foe-From Split with Melvins.
Low Tide-In the Fishtank 14, ISIS + Aereogramme.
The first three songs are pretty heavy stuff. In Fiction and Dulcinea are the most melodic. The Pliable Foe was the last ISIS song created, which makes it cooler than the cool. I love the heavy parts of Hand of the Host and Low Tide is just a perfect song for letting your mind go.
Enjoy if you can and if you can’t, Do Better.