Isis - Oceanic
Ipecac Recordings
Progressive Sludge Metal
9 songs (1:03:04)
Release year: 2002
Isis, Ipecac Recordings
Reviewed by Goat
Archive review

The second album from Isis is a huge, huge step forwards from their respectable debut Celestial. Where Celestial is repetitive, Oceanic is expansive, where Celestial is paranoid and narrow, Oceanic is extrovert and widespread with its wrath, more progressive, more atmospheric – better in every way. Like the body of water shown on the artwork, Oceanic can be violent or calm, can rage and crush or be still and mellow, and it’s this mixture of brutality and melody that makes the album so good. It’s easy to be cynical about the ‘genre’ of Post-Metal and the many more or less identical bands that do indeed play music verging on the boring, but this is where the tide started, and Oceanic is, in case you haven’t gotten the message yet, a fantastic album.

What is so especially good about Oceanic is the subtlety involved. It took many listens before I even noticed the backing female vocals in opening wave The Beginning And The End, siren voices that wail quietly to themselves whilst the water pounds against itself. Aaron Turner’s harsh, almost Hardcore growls may take time to grow on you, but in juxtaposition with the music they work wonders, telling the album’s tale of a man drowning himself in the sea perfectly. Of course, it’s the music itself that’s the attraction here, and what an attraction it is, the subtle melodies that build in the aforementioned The Beginning And The End alone worth the purchase price of the album. It’s a joy to sit and listen to the band do their thing, melodic riffs lapping at the shore whilst all manner of electronics twist and turn beneath, examples being what sounds like whale noises on The Other, wonderfully-placed and leading up to the backing clean vocals in the latter part of the song excellently, and the carefully hidden orchestrations that back False Light.

If Oceanic deserves anything, it’s that much-maligned tag, ‘thinking man’s Metal’. Generally, the sort of person to use it is casting aspersions on Metal in general, holding one hipster-favourite band up to praise whilst relegating the rest of the genre to the Cro-Magnon stereotype which we all hate, and although Isis can scornfully be relegated to the ‘Hipster Metal’ label if you’re the wrong sort of kvltist, it can’t be denied that the music here shows so much thought and care that some men indeed thought long and hard about it at the time of creation. In addition, it’s hard to switch your brain off whilst listening to Oceanic. The music goes through so many twists and turns so smoothly that it’s impossible not to be gripped and carried along for the ride. Like Tool, the best way to understand and indeed enjoy the music is to think about it whilst you listen – music for those that enjoy that sort of thing, and thus thinking man’s music.

Many claim not to ‘get’ Isis, but to me their appeal has always been obvious. Take as an example the ten-minute Weight, throbbing with marine life as hypnotic percussion and distant female vocals weave a mysterious spell – it’s a perfect example of how to hold the listeners’ attention over a lengthy song. Album closer and personal favourite Hym touches Doom Metal territory openly and twists it into something new... I could go on for hours. What you need to know is that Oceanic will take a good few uninterrupted listens to ‘get’ properly (as mentioned, I’m still hearing new things in it) and is pretty absent of catchiness. There are no hooks to suck you in, no distinct or particularly memorable riffs – instead, this is, as mentioned in the first paragraph of the review and a fitting place to draw to a close, the water on the cover art. It sits there, from a distance seeming impenetrable, a great mass, but if you dive in, completely give yourself over to it, then the depth and texture will make themselves known automatically. 2004’s Panopticon just beats this as my favourite album from Isis, turning its gaze from the sea to the sky and being even more expansive and epic, but I’ll unashamedly hail both as classics when the time comes.

Killing Songs :
The Beginning And The End, The Other, False Light, Weight, From Sinking, Hym
Goat quoted 92 / 100
Other albums by Isis that we have reviewed:
Isis - Wavering Radiant reviewed by Adam and quoted 87 / 100
Isis - In The Absence Of Truth reviewed by James and quoted 92 / 100
Isis - Celestial reviewed by Goat and quoted 84 / 100
Isis - Panopticon reviewed by Daniel and quoted 87 / 100
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