Review Summary: "Live V" succeeds as both a live representation of Isis' classic album and as an exciting work in its own right.Note: “Live V” is a live recording of “Oceanic.” This review is mainly about how it compares to its parent album, not a critique of the material on “Oceanic” itself.
Music is meant to be listened to live. While studio production can add nuance and depth to a recording, a band that can captivate an audience with their music the old fashioned way is something special. Unfortunately, with today’s advanced technology, artists all too often rely on gimmicks and having infinite chances to “get it right.” Isis’ seminal album, “Oceanic,” was a terrific example of how production can be a positive influence on the finished product. The glimmering female vocals on “The Beginning and the End” were wrought with emotional tension; the soft sounds of wind and waves in “Weight” gave it a chilling atmosphere. But their effectiveness begs the question: what if these subtle additions were removed?
With “Live V” we have the answer. Throughout their career, Isis changed their sound slightly with each release, and yet each remains powerful and emotionally wrenching. This is a band that always found a way, and “Live V” is no exception. A soundboard recording of an entire show, the album is a complete run-through of “Oceanic.” Using only minimal sampling, Isis fills the spaces once occupied by studio effects with equally scintillating instrumental work.
The result is a recording somewhat different than its studio counterpart; many songs are played faster here, with Turner’s anguished shouts now a muffled roar. The production is less crisp, so the sound is dense and sludgy -- overall heavier than the original (that obnoxiously loud snare drum is also fixed). The light synthesizer notes in the buildup of “Carry” are replaced by fading tremolo guitar lines. Each variation is done delicately to preserve the feel of the original song, and in many cases are actually improvements. “The Beginning and the End” and “The Other” benefit most from the increased urgency and live atmosphere; in particular, the opening screams of “The Other” are less jarring and fit more seamlessly with the rumbling guitar riffs.
For other songs, the live setting creates a mixed bag. “Weight,” while musically identical, clearly misses Maria Christopher’s soulful crooning. After slowly evolving for eight minutes, the piece is somewhat anti-climactic in her absence. “Hym” sees Turner struggling a bit with the initial rising vocal lines, though he finds his groove shortly. The rest of the songs are basically the same as the studio cuts: “False Light” remains powerful behind surging vocals and guitar, while “From Sinking” is also true to the original; since both are excellent songs, chalk this up as a win. The interludes “Untitled” (sampled in whole) and “Maritime” are packaged as one track, and remain effective transition pieces.
Overall, “Live V” is a valuable representation of Isis’ live show for a few reasons. Firstly, it shows that Isis are more than capable of recreating their classic album in a live setting. More importantly, it is exciting to hear how the band creates equally effective pieces in the absence of studio production. “Live V” may be a live version of “Oceanic,” but it certainly is not a replica of it. For those who treasure “Oceanic,” this will be a fresh take on an old story; those who have yet to experience Isis will find this an intriguing and impressive entry point to Isis’ body of work.