ISIS fans were shocked and saddened when the experimental metal band announced last year that they had “done everything [they] wanted to do, said everything [they] wanted to say,” and consequently broke-up. Though ISIS never made it out into the mainstream music scene (and some might say thank god for that), they remained a successful underground group that built up a steady fanbase for over 10 years, all while drawing well-deserved critical praise. The band is known for their melodic and atmospheric song-writing, a contrast against singer/guitarist Aaron Turner’s rumbling vocals, as well as their spellbinding live shows.
Capitalizing on that, Ipecac Recordings has released five posthumous ISIS Live albums that showcase the energy and subtle showmanship of the band during their lauded live performances.
ISIS Live I, II, III and V were all recorded during distinct sets at the Fillmore in San Francisco, Stockholm, The Launchpad in Albuquerque, and Koko’s in London, respectively. Album IV acts like the sampler of the bunch, taking in a bunch of different shows between 2001 and 2006, providing a more varied set-list.
The thing I liked most about these albums is that each one really captures the essence of their live shows. I mean, they really make you feel it. A great example of this is the recording of “Weight” on ISIS Live I. The track starts with a new-agey, dream-like quality that at first competes with the voices of people in the venue, you know, people swilling their beers and talking to each other. Then as the song builds, note by note, instrument by instrument, over the course of 13 minutes, the people just…shut up. They’re dumbstruck by the complex, haunting overtures pouring out from the band. You can almost feel it from the recording, just as you can hear that distinctive ‘live’ sound from the drums, giving the listener that intimacy of actually being there.
Of course, there is a downside to these realistic recordings and that comes in the form of people who don’t actually shut up while the band is playing. Some tracks you just want to reach through your iPod, smack some sense into them, and scream, “Shut the fuck up and watch the show.” But if that doesn’t add to the listening experience, I don’t know what does.
The tracks on the ISIS Live albums that really stand out are the ones that exploit their cinematic sound and play on their strength as an instrumental band. When Turner does start singing with his distinctive death growls, they are sometimes lost in translation, one of those things where you would probably have to be watching him sing to get a better idea of it.
The only caveat about these albums is that many of the songs are found on more than one record, and though the recordings do differ, there are only so many different versions of “Hym” that you need to hear. And with the ISIS Live I coming in with only four (albeit long) tracks, the fact that there are five live albums seems a bit unnecessary. But that is just me nit-picking. In the end, these albums not only belong in every ISIS fan’s collections but each one makes a good starting point for those just getting into the band. It may not fill the void that ISIS created when they disbanded, but it’s a pretty good consolation prize.