Sunday, 27 May 2012

Review: Isis - Mosquito Control

The Hiss of the Swarm

Isis was a high quality band from the beginning. Its surprising to see how well recorded and put together this is, considering it is one of the band's earliest recordings. Mosquito Control is one of the heaviest and most brutal things Isis have ever created. For anyone who only knows their recordings from their sophomore Oceanic and onwards, brutal may seem like a strange thing to say about Isis. That period is where the band's most popular works lie. This EP is a sludgy mindfuck, with brutality and aggression at the forefront, mixing with unique atmospheres. In a saturated metal climate, true menace and intensity is often a rare sight. Many bands can get halfway there or create a convincing enough sound, but it is rare for a band that can truly transport your mind to another world. This is a rare beast; integral in its approach, not being brutal just for the sake of it, but because it is necessary to realize the mood and atmosphere Isis set out to create.

Fans only familiar with Isis's later work may be surprised by Aaron Turner's vocal approach. Clean vocals are omitted, and what we have is extremely raw; something that falls in the middle of the typical barked style post-metal vocals and something resembling an aggressive and full black metal rasp. These vocals are truly menacing and are surely not without a vast amount of power. Also powerful, is the production. Full, bass heavy and unrelenting, it is the glue that holds Mosquito Control together. Many of the often repetitive riffs, as well as the fucked up drone that ends the album, would become monotonous and powerless with weak production. The production is unpolished and raw, except in the atmospheric parts. This allows Isis to create a true feel of menace and impending doom. Without the raw and dirty production on the rhythm guitar, the album would be castrated.

Aaron Harris's drumming is talented and distinct. The drums are high in the mix, but never overpower the song or distract the listener from what else is going on. Not too technical, his drumming is hard-hitting. It is an unfortunate tendency among metal bands to bury the bass, sometimes to the point where there may as well not be a bass player at all. "Mosquito Control" does not fall into this trap. The bass is high in the mix, occasionally becoming an indispensable part of the song.

"Poison Eggs" is the stand out track of this release. It starts of with a wonderfully mournful guitar melody and a strange static echo. It builds up from there in typical post-rock fashion. This song, however, is anything but typical. It has a distinctly destructive presence, different from most bands tagged as post-metal. "Hive Destruction" is the other song most worth mentioning. It is faded into from the previous song, a technique Isis employs seamlessly. The creepy intro sets the mood for whats to come. This song showcases some diverse riffs. The mandatory sludge riffing is in attendance, but Isis reaches beyond the limitations imposed by (sub)genre. A devastating thrash riff is one of the high points of not only the song, but the entire EP. Throwing a twist at the listener, there is a brief section that includes a bluesy stoner metal riff.

To get the most out of this release, multiple listens are a necessity. There are subtleties that may not be picked up on that first casual listen. Various intricacies and influences converge to form the full picture. Atmospheric parts are quite plentiful, although they aren't as overtly beautiful and serene as Isis's later works. A noticeable influence of crust and hardcore is apparent throughout the EP; it bleeds energy and life into the soundscape. There is sometimes something going on along with the dirty, severely down tuned riffs. This often is in the form of a dissonant drone. The drone element is at its peak in the outro of the album. In the last part of "Relocation Swarm", the track is taken over by a creeping drone, backed by a mammoth riff. The riff eventually fades out and the track becomes a mess of distortion, which seems to symbolize pure destruction and devastation. It also feels relevant to the mosquito theme. It may seem strange to assert that droning can be linked to a theme (one relating to animals, no less), but the droning sometimes seem to vaguely resemble a mosquito's buzzing, but more than that, it just has certain qualities that seem to mesh with the lyrics and symbolism surrounding the album; something that words attempting to describe it can't quite capture - you just have to feel it out by listening to the track.

The works of Isis are highly based on themes. Oceanic tells a story, although in a vague way that is highly drenched in symbolism. Panopticon is based on the prison structure conceived by English philosopher Jeremy Bentham, and moreover, is a metaphor for the state of modern society. This is something they have been doing even prior to releasing their debut full length. In this release the theme is based around mosquitos, which is apparent in both the lyrics and artwork. The song titles all relate to this theme. The lyrics are intricately written, and although they are relevant to the main theme, it is hard to help but think that all this mosquito talk is meant to be a metaphor for a much broader issue than mosquito control. The lyrics are some of Turner's best, full of metaphors and poetic tendencies:

"Lies are falling, fall from wings, the walls are
seething, seething with disease. The drone is
deafening from the malcontent swarm, lies from
wings are falling, blood in rivers runs, lied
from wings fall hive destruction."

From beginning to end, Isis were a truly original force, forging their own unique sound instead of following blindly. Refusing to stick to the limitations of a preconceived metal sub genre, Isis have been staying true to themselves and doing what they feel like since the beginning. Mosquito Control, one of Isis's earliest works, is a prime example of this. This is brutal without a doubt, but never mindlessly so. There are atmospheric sections weaved into the mix, something that would be greatly expanded on in Isis's subsequent releases. This EP is a monolithic offering, engaging the listener in a truly dark and harrowing journey. Every musician shines, but never attempts to hog the spotlight; this release is a balance, full of intricate details which may at first appear hidden. Any attempts to show off would throw the whole thing off balance and the magic would quickly come crashing down. This is raw and inaccessible, and therefore isn't suitable to the masses or even the majority of metal fans. However, this will truly be spectacular to people who are into this type of thing.  


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