The appeal of Isis (and their oft-associated similar, Neurosis) is that they brand themselves “thinking man’s metal.” Other than the occasional unclean vocal performance, this is effectively the world’s loudest post-rock: metal-heavy guitars infused with a sense of ascendant melody and ominous mood, arranged in slow-building slabs that crest in moments of maxed-out guitar bliss. It washes over you, but it’s really, really heavy water.
All of those attributes are on display in five live sets that the band is releasing as digital downloads, labeled “Live” and then numbered Roman-style. The collections cover material from ’03 to ’06: “Live I” is a September ’03 set, “Live II” is a March ’03 jaunt, “III” is a December ’04 concert, “IV” is selections from ’01-’05, and “V” is a July ’06 recording.
The sound is universally well-maintained; for live recordings, these are excellent. It helps that Isis’ work draws on the mythology of oceans and has a submerged sort of feel to its work, but that shouldn’t take anything away from the engineering jobs done here.
The song selection only displays work from “Oceanic,” “Panopticon” and “Celestial,” although they do cover almost all the songs therein. The 13-minute “Weight” and 10-minute “The Beginning and the End” appear four times, while “Carry” shows up thrice. Several other songs show up twice in the course of the five releases. This makes some of the releases more essential than others for new Isis fans: “III” has six songs that don’t appear anywhere else (with “Beginning and the End” as the only duplicate), while “V” has all four songs of “I” and another quadrilogy to boot.
Isis fans will want all of these to compare the tracks against each other; as a new fan (and one who never witnessed the group’s performance), it’s not as interesting for me to compare four different versions of the same song from different periods in the act’s development. But Isis fans will love that, as well they should.
Listeners get their money’s worth, too: the shortest (“I”) is 40 minutes, with the rest clocking in at over an hour.
Fans of post-rock should definitely give Isis a spin if they haven’t already done so; the band thanks tourmates Mogwai in “I.” The band’s focus (really heavy mood music) should perk the ears of those interested in the louder aspects of the genre. Fans of metal looking for something different should also apply, and fans of Isis should be ecstatic. —Stephen Carradini