DB HOF NO. 91
The making of Isis’s “Oceanic”
Formed out of teenage jitters, a can-/will-do work ethic and long-term (possibly unhealthy) exposure to Neurosis, Swans and the Melvins, Boston’s Isis were in many respects different from what the rest of New England had to offer in the late ’90s. While statemates and regional floor-pounders explored ultra-pissed off ways to connect and then mutate hardcore, punk and metal—as the birth of metalcore will attest—Isis had other plans. Instead of beatdowns of a violent and aggressive nature—with the occasional flash of guile—the Beantown boys opted to cloak slowly, deftly employing can’t-escape waves of white-knuckle rage and oppression. True, Isis weren’t always the sum of their parts, but what followed debut album Celestial would change everything.
When Oceanic landed in September 2002, it was immediately evident that the ghosts—brazenly presented as badges of honor and respect—who had ravaged Isis’ past work had been subdued, their age-old frustration only allowed to show when and where dynamic and thematic points were required. Unlike Celestial’s outright anger and brutality, Oceanic was expansive, inviting and, in many respects, the opposite of its forebear. Surely, it was still Isis, for Aaron Turner’s howl and the group’s undulating tumult still played a significant role in how they communicated, but the collective had aged, learned to open up and, as you will learn, smoked Boston out of its reefer reserves. With tracks like opener “The Beginning and the End,” the body/mind-moving “False Light” and the exceptional “Weight”—with Maria Christopher’s fey voice leading the despondent charge—Oceanic was, for all intents and purposes, a sea change moment for Isis.
Although we proclaimed Oceanic as the fourth-greatest metal—a descriptor Isis continue to wrangle postmortem—album of the last decade way back in 2009, the time is now for Isis’ much-storied, achingly adored second long-player to enter the Hall. Nearly 10 years to the month, in fact.
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