Monthly Archives: November 2012

ISIS “Temporal” Ipecac

Temporal Cover Image

Temporal is a collection of unreleased rarities, demos, remixes and videos covering most if not all points in the Bostonian art-metallers distinguished career. Given the band’s uncompromising creativity and disregard for conventions Temporal fulfils the fairly traditional role of chapter closing retrospective; though instead of this being some ‘best of’ to recommend to newcomers to the world of Isis really it’s for completists and those who seek a window into the processes that crafted some of the best songs – a bit like Led Zeppelin’s CODA.

The band’s albums were largely built around themes; some more explicit than others – Panopticon revolved around the concept and consequences of Jeremy Bentham’s plans for the all-seeing prison and the philosophy of Hassan-i-Sabbah is referenced on In The Absence of Truth. The lyrics were often oblique and abstract which, along with the anonymous nature of the band members could make it feel like you were being kept at arm’s length and certainly not spoon-fed answers. However, the remixes push Aaron Turner’s, often harsh but some times clean, vocals up to the front sliding the guitars further back suggesting that other musicians wanted to hear what they had to say too.

Temporal fittingly begins where Isis’ recording career finished with the emotion tinged voyage through the senses that is Threshold of Transformation a song that announced the dissolution and reconfiguration of these musicians’ path. Their music comes across like shifting sands; immense power based on lots of tiny particles moving harmoniously. Their career was not without its missteps; with the In The Absence of Truth album in particular feeling like a disappointment after the fantastic first three. As a result, Oceanic is still the most organic way into the band’s catalogue as everything builds from that record’s granite solid base.

Demo recordings predominate on the opening disc and go some way to showing how meticulously prepared the band were for recording with the aforementioned Threshold of Transformation sounding fully formed saved for the abrupt ending, Ghost Key is purely instrumental in this guise while Wills Dissolve manages to sound even more eerie shorn of studio production as do the pair of Oceanic tracks; Carry and False Light.

Elsewhere on the record’s second disc there are covers that tip the band’s collective hat to their influences: Godflesh’s Streetcleaner which is good and Sabbath’s Hand of Doom which simply sounds underpowered. The album is rounded out by b-sides, remixes from the Melvins/Lustmord and Thomas Dimuzio, and hard to find tracks such as the two gems from a split LP also with the Melvins – Way Through Woven Branches and Pliable Foe.

Worth the record’s entry fee are the unreleased tracks; Grey Divide an atmospheric epic which elevates from quiet keys and sparse percussion to full on metallic white heat, the succinct and moody title track Temporal and an acoustic version of 20 minutes/40 years which closes the album, its lyrics providing a concise summation of the band’s headspace come the end, “Sight renewed. Seek new life. I seek new life. Walk on.”

The patient interplay and intricate arrangements the band juxtaposed against sludgy heaviness and gruff textured vocals delivering enigmatic lyrics – was heavy music that wasn’t ugly or obsessed with power in the usual metal sense. The group are obviously indebted to the evolution of their spiritual forebears – Swans, the Melvins and Neurosis – but when reviewing their career one can confidently say that Isis can stand amongst those seminal acts and call them peers.

Temporal is what it is; an odds and sods collection, given the likelihood of a best of being very slim and most likely undesirable with Isis’ history of following their own path, this record serves as a fitting and exploratory way to cap their journey together as a band.

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An Interview with Helge Sten of Supersilent

Group Photograph of Supersilent

Norwegian avant improvisational troupe, Supersilent, are a multi-stranded proposition – teaming electronic and acoustic instruments with high energy arrangements and moments of hushed calm all with no rehearsal. They’ve been at it for over a decade now and have recently teamed up with former Led Zeppelin multi-instrumentalist and rock aristo – John Paul Jones – for a number of shows including five in the UK later this month. To get the lowdown on this line-up, their future plans and their unique playing I spoke with Helge Sten on the phone from his native Norway.

Hello Helge! Supersilent have been together for a long time with the same line-up. How did this particular project with John Paul Jones start?
Helge: We played at the same electronic festival in Norway and he was due to perform right before us so just sort of met up with him and asked him if he would like to join us for our show. It just happened.

What does Jones’ playing bring to Supersilent?
H: He’s so diverse and really really good at listening and going into improvised situations.

Has the dynamic in the group changed as a result?
H: It’s different when you have four people in the band but in a good way. We’ve also played a lot with another guitarist in Europe and it’s the same – another member it’s different dynamics but in a good way.

With Jones in the group have you noticed a difference in the audience you’re playing to?
H: We have done mainly festivals and I think if you know Supersilent you know what you’re coming to see. People who are interested in John’s past have the knowledge that he might do stuff that’s different from the old days. There’s not a lot of people wanting to hear stuff from that different group [Led Zeppelin], it’s working out really nice.

You’ve mentioned in the past Norway’s tradition of improv-jazz. Most people when they think of Norwegian music, they’ll automatically conjure up notions of black metal or Eurovision – does Supersilent have a big audience at home?
H: It’s not fair to say we have a big audience in Norway. We do most of our concerts in Europe, it’s actually hard for us to play in Norway due to the infrastructure and length of the whole country.

How’s your experience been of England?
H: We played a tour there in, maybe 2000 – can’t actually remember and a few gigs in London. We found it a very open audience; interested in going to listening to music in an open way

Given your rules about rehearsing I was wondering if you ever listen back to recordings of gigs or past records for reference points or pieces you’d like to expand on? Or are those moments snapshots in time never to be repeated?
H: The thing is that for us improvisation is a tool to compose music – that’s the idea. We want to compose music and for us improvisation is a tool to do that in real time. We’re not into it for philosophical reasons it’s just a way for us to compose and play music in a way we enjoy. I mean we could rehearse but then we’d just have a tape recorder going all the time then we would get a bunch of recording to sort out so actually not recording is good for us to focus immediately in the studio or in shows.

To play this music must take a lot of concentration, are you still able to have fun?
H: Yes! I would say every time.

You don’t feel the need for a three minute pop song?
H: Well I mean there’s so much weird stuff coming in which sometimes is really beautiful kind of short piece then it can be really noisy and dynamic. It’s so many things – it’s all allowed there’s no censorship – if you add that into the mix it’s ok.

Are there any plans to record with this line-up or keep it on the road?
H: We’ve recorded a few of the concerts and we might do some recording but we’ve not really talked about it but it might happen. We haven’t discussed it in detail.

Finally, what can people expect from a Supersilent gig?
H: Woah, I don’t know… It’s supersonic music with a lot of great musicians in the Supersilent universe but it’s hard to tell what to expect because often the venue is colouring how we make choices in the music. Like if we’re in a big concert hall with lots of reverb we would play different music than if we were in a small club. It’s very organic, really hard to tell [someone] but it’s electronic music, improvised. It can be really dynamic and noisy and loud or super-quiet.
First published on RoomThirteen

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Neurosis “Honor Found In Decay” Neurot

Neurosis album cover

Honor Found in Decay, the eleventh full-length studio record from post-metal pioneers Neurosis, is yet another run of the mill exercise in consistent excellence. Whilst not straying from the sound and aesthetic crystallised on previous albums such as this record’s gnarled predecessor Given to the Rising, Neurosis have produced another visceral and emotive anchor of an album.

Released at a time when the leaves are dead or dying and falling to the ground and the sky is low and shot through with grey before dusk Honor Found in Decay is a prescient release – trailing the dark somberness that approaches us in British winter.

The hulking, brooding riffs for which they are renowned are present on this new collection but they are often used to clear space for quiet laments of Floydian melancholy and evocations of the physical world (the heavy parts obviously: mountains, planets and the sun what else would you expect?). This is nowhere better demonstrated than on My Heart For Deliverance; a song that alights on human insignificance and cosmic grandeur. Bleeding The Pigs’ lyrics are given prominence and are similarly evocative, “Scrape the black tar from your past life. Let its weight burn away. Stand within the guiding power. Its current draws you clean.”

Elsewhere Neurosis grapple with abrasive sonics; Casting Of The Ages uses the classic quiet/loud/very loud/quiet structure as Von Till and Kelly share the microphone for a song of punishing weight. Eschewing that structure the ugly All Is Found…In Time crackles with energy propelled by a scuttling drum pattern and yawning guitar over which vocals stretch into the distance collapsing into a ringing post-rock middle section before retrieving the anger that put the song in motion. The closing statement is one of electric dissonance with the crushing Raise The Dawn which fades out to the strains of weeping violin.

Neurosis’ immersive groove is a communal one shared between the six members. Sometimes they are joined by the bobbing heads of a crowd and sometimes the connection is just between the listener and a disc. It’s hard to recreate the physicality of the band’s all too infrequent live shows on record; Steve Albini certainly ratchets up the guitar sounds but the drums don’t have the same punch.

On Honor Found in Decay the band add some touches from their other musical interests: spectral folk from Von Till’s and Kelly’s acoustic albums and the psychedelic whirl of supergroup Shrinebuilder especially in the keyboards of Noah Landis to the trademark doom enveloped guitar, Jason Roeder’s tribal drumming and the growl of Scott Kelly and Steve Von Till. This atmosphere, can after a time, feel portentous, bordering on the ridiculously gloomy and it should be known there are no moments of levity here; it’s all cloaked in weighty struggle.

The hype surrounding the record may be unfair and certainly uncultivated by the band themselves but it makes for expectations that the evolution from hardcore ruffians to post-metal philosophers will continue but the evidence is that that process has slowed somewhat after recent landmark albums with Neurosis comfortable with their sonic identity with only minor nuances required to keep moving forward.

Standing like an ancient tree with haphazard branches, mottled with moss and changing colour and scale through the seasons Neurosis may outwardly change but they ultimately stay the same producing raw, thoughtful heavy music on each release. It may seem trite to remark on Neurosis’ longevity but after almost thirty years there aren’t many acts that can still deliver so much and for that we should be thankful.

Review first published on RoomThirteen.

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