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.