Isis – Oceanic

3 out of 5

Label: Ipecac

Produced by: Matt Bayles

I’m a horrible metal fan. It’s true. I don’t “get” some hugely influential acts like Isis, while I squeal with delight at releases by the millions of bands they inspired, and continue to inspire. I’ll madly collect Isis frontman Aaron Turner’s output from his partially-defunct Hydra Head label, but then throw an askance glance at albums on which he’s the primary. The “post-metal” wave which Isis ushered in is, like, my go-to scene, and yet I get a little snoozey whenever I put on a disc by said scene’s grandpappy.

Maybe it’s because the more organic, slow-burn style into which Isis grew just doesn’t sound right to me in the very crisp, digital hands of oft-produced Matt Bayles; maybe it’s because Turner’s hardcore growl has no distinctiveness to it; maybe it’s that his lyrics – while often very thoughtful and poetic – hit on just the side of being both too vague and personal to really strike home for me.

I sometimes chalk this up to a “ya had to be there” mentality, as Isis were shaking up a scene I had only started to explore at the time, but… I dunno. When I listen to Slayer’s early albums, they still rule the roost on thrash; other bands from before my era can have a similar impact. Isis, meanwhile, never surprise me; there’s not a moment on Oceanic that doesn’t feel logical, and predictable. Which by no means is me calling it a bad post-metal disc, as that logicalness is a skill itself, and requires some sharp players to bring it to life; the album gets absolutely epic upon its concluding three tracks, and this is an epicness earned by the calculated approach of what precedes it.

Oceanic’s theme of self-examination, or actualization, is told in a cycle of lumbering, heavy-duty tracks and open-ended lyrics. Turner’s song construction and writing style are in sync in this sense; they allow for interpretation. The music doesn’t push you, but lets you float along with it, even when it’s at its most extreme. But this isn’t, to me, the same thing as “difficult” music that requires one to search for rhythm, or lyrics that ask for interpretation; rather, it’s the opposite: it’s… easy. In that sense, I understand why it was such a huge shift in the metal scene, bringing in an almost comforting sensibility to a harsh genre. However, that also prevents it from having an edge that I can latch on to, and that makes me want to actively return to it.