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When one connects with music on an emotional level, transcending the more literal (and typical) kind of listening experience, then the entire experience becomes something quite special. Especially when one can relate - not in a pretentious, pseudo manner - to the actual concept and atmosphere the band have evoked in a particular release.

Case in point: the new Isis album. Entitled 'Oceanic' (the follow-up to the massive outbursts of their last release, 'Celestial'), what the Massachusetts five piece have unearthed is a colossal and very delicate epoch, which could very well be one of the most awesome, all-encompassing listening experiences that has crossed my ears all year. To be moved by the serene and heaving scope, the smooth transitioning of emotions being delicately shifted throughout the nine tracks that bless this amazing picture, 'Oceanic' is an album that possesses all the quality traits that are essential in creating a true unbridled masterpiece. Where a strikingly heavy and crushing vibe interweaves with soothing docile power, Isis have tapped into something unnamable and untouchable.

Singer / songwriter / lyricist Aaron Turner spoke with Unrestrained! about the creation and formulation of this immortal masterwork.

"I think we struck a good balance between the heavy and the melodic, and I think the two elements really strengthen each other quite a bit," says Aaron about the certain mood shifts of 'Oceanic' (on Ipecac). With 'Celestial', the quieter aspects weren't fleshed out as well as they are on this record, I think we spent more time on the melodic element. It seemed like the dynamic shifts in the old stuff were more abrupt and with this one, a lot of the shifts are more flowing and more organic, which is better in my perspective."

Even though Isis has generated their roots from the circles within the Boston hardcore scene, as they continue to develop and flesh out, the band's sound becomes more unclassifiable and open.

"I mean that's part of the point with us," Aaron replies. "To try and do something that's not equally definable, and even though everyone in the group is rooted in hardcore or at least underground music in some way or another, it's well beyond that. I think this record is a culmination of all the things that affected us as people, in terms of music throughout all our lives. I mean there is an electronic element in us that we enjoy some drum n' bass kinda stuff or experimental stuff and shit like that. Of course there's stuff that creeps through like Neurosis, Melvins, Godflesh - more traditionally heavy bands who, while not necessarily hardcore, are either a spawn of that field or relate to it one [way] or another. I think a lot of the bands that influence Isis also transcend genres like The Melvins, Swans - all those kind of bands started out with a sound that associated them with one scene or another and then eventually they just grew so far beyond that. But I'd say the influences on this record are everything from Led Zeppelin to Massive Attack, to. . . I dunno, Slint and Mogwai. . . there's so many different things that coalesce into the sound that we're doing, without it being totally un-cohesive."

Do you feel that with 'Oceanic', Isis have found their stable and suitable sound?

"I think as far as my perspective of being in a band is, I think you are always trying to find a grasp on what you're doing. Isis, I think, is just one of those groups that will continue to evolve and grow. I don't think we've had any two releases that were the same in terms of sound. I think with each release, we've taken a step in a different direction, progressed in some manner or another, and while I say 'Oceanic' is my favorite so far, I think it's a stepping stone to whatever is coming next."

What's also quite striking about the new album is that even though the songs are presented in a grandiose-like manner, they do have this song-like simplicity to them.

"When we try to do the songs, we try to make each song so it's its own entity that stands on itself but still make sure that the songs fit cohesively together on the album; we're very careful about pacing and the arrangement of songs. I think it works really well as a whole and also we try to capture somewhat of a symphonic feel in terms of having different movements. Like the album takes you in various emotional states throughout its course. That was a big focus for us when writing this record."

I can imagine the patience and meticulousness behind the album writing process.

"I think we were pretty meticulous in the creation of the tracks this time," Aaron counters. "It took us longer to write this stuff than any stuff we had written in the past. We also threw away a number of songs that were sort of the initial steps in writing what we did. It's not that they weren't good, but they were sort of transitional things that we were trying out new things, if they worked or if they didn't and those songs were like the beginning of the learning process for this record. Every song we wrote and re-wrote and meticulously pulled apart-there was definitely very careful consideration on many levels for the songs."

Which also compliments the album's structure; a smooth, fine-line seamless transition that fits cohesively with the overall sound picture.

"There is a conceptual end behind the record in terms of lyrics but the reason behind the way the songs are arranged is based clearly upon an emotional dynamic and the traveling throughout the album. We tried to start it off somewhat heavy but not as heavy as it gets and then sort of just gradually paced it, brought it to a point where it was almost sort of an apex and then brought it down and added in some stuff that was sort of like an interlude, almost a break from the more abrasive elements on the album and then dealt back up into a. . . I dunno it was really. . . well obviously with the title, it has to do a lot with water and I was thinking about fluidity and how things fit together. We debated and debated, tried different arrangements with the songs and finally we found an order that flowed really well. I mean it was important to us to put songs next to each other that complimented each other that also were a juxtaposition of elements."

Which takes us to the album's striking aura that hovers over this emotional canvas. 'Oceanic' being an album that has taken a personal toll as well, its overall concept triggering certain special and unforgettable feelings and also a term that can relate to having that exalted godly feeling coursing through your body while standing amongst a vast body of water.


"That's the kind of thing we are trying to trigger in people," replies Aaron. "We write what we consider to be deeply emotional music and that's what we want people to connect with and want them to get that feeling of open expanse of sound with that sense of sort of being submerged in almost a liquid audio or something like that. Just for me, thinking about the conceptual end of the record and the musical end, just everything that inspired me to write, I definitely can relate to that feeling of just being out in front of the ocean and having that vast expanse in front of you where it's really humble but also awe inspiring at the same time. I would hesitate to say that about my own music, but, I mean, we would like people to connect their emotional experiences with this album and to connect on an emotional level and we want them to associate it with experiences they've had and really take them to another space other than a literal space which happens to be when you just listen to the record."

"But for me, I have a greater attachment to albums as a whole if I feel they are connected," continues Aaron about the album's concept. "Like the whole album itself is one piece as well as its individual parts. I basically tried to stretch all of the lyrical aspects of every release we've done, in a sort of conceptual fashion where the lyrics really fit together with each song somehow; a different facet of the same subject. 'Oceanic' is no exception and I think as far as that end of the album is concerned this is also the album that I spent the most time writing lyrics for and really thinking about the story and just putting it together.

"There is a specific story behind all the lyrics and I tried to write a narrative that I based the lyrics from. But I mean the narrative applies to a lot of things, obviously it's metaphorical for a lot of things, and just the idea of water as the main conceptual ideas, trying to create a sound that is fluid and suggest some sort of submersion, form and just the open expanse of that sound sort of suggests the vastness of the ocean. But there are a lot of aspects to it as well. Water was intriguing to me because it's very multi-dimensional in terms of the feeling it evokes. For me, the ocean is awe inspiring but also terrifying. I think drowning to me is one of the scariest ideas as far as the way to go. So I think part of it was about me trying to accept that idea. (laughs) And really just sort of have something elemental to base the emotional musical structure on."

The underwater world serves as a whole new dimension as well, an otherworldly universe deep within the confines of an innerspace-like kingdom. Overall, the underwater kingdom is the closest thing humankind will get to experiencing another whole new universe and going into the beyond.

"I definitely would agree with that and that was another important factor in just trying to find something that was a real element within everybody's lives that had some sort of mystery to it. Humans are obviously capable of being in water but it's not our preferred environment. So it is something that often, sort of disconnects people in their everyday lives, offers them something they can't get any other way. I mean when you're in water or underwater, you feel that you are in a different place and you're not all in control as much as you are in other times. It is a whole other world. I mean people know more about space than we do about some of the oceans that are on this world and there's obviously depths to which humans haven't and can't travel, so that's pretty interesting as well. Also the idea of water as a metaphor for the subconscious. I can't remember if it was Freud or Jung, but one of those guys said that, especially in dreams, that water is sort of a metaphor for the unconscious, especially the creative unconscious. So that is also an important aspect as well, just writing the album in sort of an experiment in delving into our subconscious and into the primal human self and just thinking about things that also lie on the surface."

And if the world were to end, it would probably end up as this big body of ocean anyway.

"Yeah a lot of people speculate, or say that the world started in an aquatic atmosphere and people came from the water and our bodies are mostly made from water; the most essential life force for everyone and everything on the planet."


review of Isis 'Celestial'

"False Light" from 'Oceanic'









c/o Adam Wasylyk
3150 Spring Creek Crescent
Mississauga, Ontario

Interview: Chris Bruni [ ]

MU Editor: Brant Wintersteen [ ]
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