Review Summary: A ferocious, punishing listen that takes a while to really reward
Isis are known today for their expansive and organic sound that is best displayed on records such as Panopticon. This sound is immersive and relaxing; even when it's at its heaviest it still seems as though it is a work of art, not a scathing display of brutality, and there is an emphasis on atmosphere and evolution within songs towards a cumulation. Celestial basically takes this formula and inverts it, so if you think that you understand Isis and haven't heard this, or anything before it, then you're in for a shock.
The key to Isis' future albums is evolution (in the form of their spectacular build-ups), but the key to Celestial is groove. The album is built on simplicity and combines slow, minimalistic riffs with Aaron Turner's unintelligible, furious screamed vocals. The result is an album so crushingly heavy and so devastatingly powerful that it may seem virtually unlistenable at first, and its raw, primal sound does take a while to get used to. Remember Lexicon
from Neurosis' Enemy of the Sun? Think of a slightly simplified version of that song, and you've more or less got Celestial.
Celestial's appeal is rather hard to describe, since it is ugly, repetitive and almost vindictively inaccessible. It is not an album that is enjoyed
, it is experienced, and that experience is so hellishly angry that - on paper - it should reward the album with absolutely no listeners or fans. The only explanation I can find for the way Celestial appeals to me is that it works in the same way that Isis' other albums do: as a work of art. It may be a misshapen pile of rubble in musical form, but it succeeds so well in being one that it has no problems with enticing the listener just as well as Isis' more accesible material.
The most distinctive track is easily C.F.T. (New Circuitary and Continued Evolution)
, which is a gentle reprieve from the brutality of the other songs, repeating a clean melody that soothes the listener and adds some much-needed variety, since there is not a huge amount to differentiate the other tracks. There are two others that stand out (in terms of composition, not quality) though; Deconstructing Towers
is a slightly more up-tempo instrumental that includes an extended breakdown which utilizes feedback/harmonics/unrefined noise contrasted with crushing low notes, with the result that it somehow manages to sound even more raw and destructive than the rest of the album. As well as this, Celestial (The Tower)
has a long clean section that shows the album at its must melodic (excluding C.F.T.). It is worth noting that most clean sections (such as Glisten
) are just as ugly and aggressive as their heavy counterparts, due to their rough tone and crude feel.
Overall, Celestial is the soundtrack to a collapsing tower and sounds just as violent as this image; you can take it on its own terms or listen to something less unforgiving. However, if you are prepared to endure the musical onslaught of songs like Swarm Reigns (Down)
and Deconstructing Towers
, then you may well find yourself on a trip that you are unlikely to forget any time soon.