Review Summary: Isis finally unleash a concert recording that lives up to their legendary live show.
It’s not every band that can release more live albums than studio LP’s and still have fans clamoring for more. While Live VI is the third proper live set from post-metal giants Isis (the other three were haphazardly assembled bootlegs), it’s significant for two reasons: it’s the first piece of music from the band since their 2010 dissolution, and it’s the most comprehensive document of their live show yet released. Despite the set being one continuous show, six different albums (including early EP’s Mosquito Control
and The Red Sea
) are represented here. The resulting sonic palette is accordingly diverse, from the primal raging of Red Sea and Hive Destruction to the brilliantly executed centerpiece trio 'In Fiction', 'Holy Tears', and 'Weight'. The latter even includes singer Maria Christopher, whose reverb-drenched mantras were sorely missed in previous outings.
For such a disparate collection of songs, the set list flows remarkably well. The band takes the stage as a horror-movie industrial loop fades in, then bursts into the crushing swells of 'Hive Destruction'. Having emphatically broken the ice, Turner and company continue with a fantastic rendition of 'So Did We', which seems to have evolved somewhat over the years. The initial riff, for instance, is slightly more streamlined than the Panopticon
version, and drummer Aaron Harris throws in dramatic double-bass fills as the song builds. The clean verse in the middle is an album highlight, with Turner’s echoing cries about resisting the passing of time creating a haunting juxtaposition to the song’s ever-increasing momentum. 'Not In Rivers, But In Drops' enters over rolling tom-toms, forsaking brutality for eloquent layers of counterpoint guitar, enduring several sonic shifts before finally giving way to the incessant, coarse riffs of the misleadingly-named 'Gentle Time'. Each song peaks and troughs, the three guitarists meticulously creating an aural landscape. At times the music seems a medium through which Aaron Turner describes a painstakingly assembled primeval world, raked by powerful storms of distortion strategically parting to reveal fields of luscious melodies. Metaphorical tangents aside, there just seems to be something greater at work behind all this.
The songs’ full visceral effect is made possible by the excellent sound quality, which here is worlds better than the first four albums of Isis’ live series, and another step up from soundboard recording Live V
. Aaron Turner’s vocals, in particular, are clearly heard amidst the thunderous layers of guitar and percussion. As mentioned before, Christopher’s presence further sets the performances of Oceanic
cuts 'Carry' and 'Weight' apart from their incomplete versions elsewhere. As with Live V
, the pieces run uninterrupted, including sound bites of the crowd between songs. This continuity gives a strong impression of the listener actually being at the show, making it easy to drift away in the music without constant reminders that it’s just a recording. Isis were always first and foremost a live band, and the “transcendent” live experience they aim for is very nearly replicated here. Just close your eyes and let the music take you wherever it may, be it a prehistoric world or the front row at a concert. Or maybe both at the same time.
So Did We