Mostly Metal: Isis vs. Mastodon
As you might read in the print edition of this week's Press, the experimental metal band Isis will be at the Meridian tonight. All of Isis' albums since 2002's Oceanic have explored similar territory: long, unhurried songs that blend doom-metal with the noodly, spacey guitar work characteristic of post-rock. Isis' albums emphasize texture over riffs, and are heavily intellectual in theme; most, if not all, of them are concept albums, based around elevated concepts such as the philosophy of Bentham and Foucault or Islamic mysticism. The point is basically to play metal stripped of the elements that ostensibly define the genre: speed, violence, thematic nihilism, heaviness. Hence the term "post-metal." Isis, along with Pelican (also playing tonight), are more or less the poster children for post-metal as it's most narrowly defined, and they're joined by a cohort of similar bands, a number of which, such as Red Sparowes and Russian Circles, are directly associated with them.
Isis' new album, Wavering Radiant, is very good, probably their best, and yet it had the misfortune to see release just after another metal album with an esoteric concept and long songs: Mastodon's Crack the Skye. Mastodon are the standard-bearers for a different trend in metal delineated as much by geography as by aesthetics. This "movement" has no label, but it consists of bands from the Deep South, mostly Georgia and Florida, that play midtempo metal with elements of thrash, hardcore, post-rock, Southern rock, grunge, what have you; notable bands that fit this description include Today is the Day, Kylesa, Torche and Baroness. Why do I call the timing a misfortune for Isis? Well, compared to post-metal, the music made by these Southern bands can sound downright conventional; they play around much less with texture and structure, and their songs tend to be riff-oriented in a pretty traditional way. But the flipside is that their music "rocks" a lot more. Isis is a very serious band, and while Crack the Skye is a serious record too - it follows a complex story arc involving time travel - it delivers a much more enjoyable listening experience, in part because it is informed stylistically by the sense of fun that marks the Southern bands in general and Mastodon in particular.
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