If asked to describe the sheer brilliance that is Isis’ “Oceanic”, I would undoubtably respond with those two phrases. Everything about “Oceanic”, from its emotional, multilayered instrumentations, to its beautifully abstract lyrics, to its ambient, highly dynamic atmosphere, is absolutely astonishing. It’s not often that I can sit down and actually listen to a 63 minute album the entire way through, but with Isis’ “Oceanic”, it’s far too easy. Every song plays off the previous to create a broad listening experience, and in the end strikingly seems to come together as one giant piece. While Isis is commonly associated with the hardcore and metal crowds (after all their vocalist Aaron Turner is the owner of hardcore heavyweight Hydrahead Records, which is responsible for such acts as Cave In and Botch among others), there is very little about this band that fits with the traditional hardcore or metal sound, and that in turn is one of the greatest strengths of Isis. If experimental, atmospheric and well thought out rock, with hints of metal and other genres, is something which you like, then “Oceanic” is an album you must own.
While every album Isis has released has been genius in its own way, and each has brought something unique and different to the table, “Oceanic” still remains my favorite piece of material from the band. While the previous “Celestial” has a much more metal feel with experimental temptations layered in (ala Godflesh), and the following record “Panopticon” would have a much broader atmospheric nature, “Oceanic” combines the best of both worlds. The band is still heavy in the needed places, but in others the instrumental sections are astounding. The loud soft dynamic hasn’t been played up this well since Fugazi. While I hate to single out any tracks on this album, because I still like to think of it as one giant 63 minute epic, “The Beginning And The End”, “Carry” and “Hym” are among my favorite tracks. I especially love the soft, almost indecipherable female vocals which creep into “Carry” and “Weight”. The only true way to appreciate the beauty this record carries though, is to listen to it from beginning to end, and see how well it fits together. Almost like the pieces of a puzzle (to sound terrible cliche). I couldn’t imagine any one track being in a different place, or others being added/omitted. That’s part of the appeal of “Oceanic”.
If you are a casual fan of music, “Oceanic” may present a difficult listen at first. When most songs run anywhere from 7-10 minutes in length, it does take some getting used to if you are more accustomed to conventional musical patterns and styles. However once that security barrier has been breached, you can fully understand the beauty of this record. Something which makes this album very different from any others Isis has put forth is the way in which the music is pushed to the front, and Aaron’s vocals seem to be more of a background element. While this may seem strange at first, it works wonders here. In fact as many have said, this whole album itself, it seems, could be all instrumental were his vocals simply taken out. The way they are inserted adds much affect to the songs though, as seen on “From Sinking” and “False Light” (two of the album’s heavier tracks) where the vocals and the music combine together to make a beautiful sound, without one overpowering the other.
Musically the band is among the most creative and skilled in any genre. The vocal style is something that many would not expect, were someone to describe to you what the music on this album sounds like. Aaron Turner opts to insert a traditional hardcore guttural scream, which as odd as it may sound, fits perfectly with the dynamic that the group creates. His vocals sound somewhere along the lines of Steven Brodsky’s of Cave In on “Until Your Heart Stops”, although they are not as loud, rough or overpowering. Sometimes they get somewhat melodic, but not too often. Like I said they are much more of a background element. The guitar compositions are extraordinary works in themselves, and are easily one of the most memorable aspects of the record. From loud to soft, or technical to broad, Gallagher (and sometimes Meyer) catapult the band to forefront of all experimental or noise driven rock outfits. Individual tracks like “The Beginning And The End”, “Carry” and “From Sinking” have striking guitar parts. The drums and bass are the perfect rhythm section for the band, as they are important pieces of the music at times (the first 4 minutes of so of “Weight” relies entirely on the drumming), but don’t show off or try to be noticed. They are best when the simply drift along with the rest of the band. The atmopsheric effects and keyboards added in by Chris Mereshuk are just brilliant touches. The sound which the band produces when making music together is simply unparalleled, and has a must-listen-to-be-appreciated type of nature.
There is really not enough praise I could give to Isis or “Oceanic”. Listening to the record gives me the same wonderful feeling everytime I pop it in, and that’s a reason why I fell in love with this album so quickly. While it doesn’t necessarily have the type of sound you would expect at first, the massive, oceanic (forgive the comparison, but it works so well) feeling of the record is second to none. The ocean is the perfect way to describe Isis’ sound, because much like the sea, they are broad and ever-changing. “Oceanic” is simply a masterpiece that should most definitely be given a listen by all fans of music who appreciate well crafted musical compositions. So far Isis has done no better. Just jump in already, and drift out with the tide.