Isis - Live VII

by James Gerard Rating:8 Release Date:2017-03-31

At their peak (and long before their name was unfortunately hijacked by headlines), Isis was a brilliant example of what you would call a ‘thinking man’s’ metal band.  The Boston-based troupe embraced a myriad of conceptual elements and themes over the course of their five studio albums, skillfully crafting a sound that featured a perfect amalgamation of doom-laden riffs and post-rock arrangements.  But after years of tirelessly working the road the band quietly decided to call it quits in 2010, simply stating "done everything we wanted to do, said everything we wanted to say", much to the dismay of their loyal fanbase.

Taken from their final Australian tour back in 2010, Live VII, the latest in an ongoing series, captures the band in fine form despite being at the end of their run.  Amid a backdrop of piercing feedback the band launches into a brutal take of Wavering Radiant’s opening track “Hall Of The Dead”, perfectly setting the stage for what is to come.  The pummeling “20 Minutes/40 Years” (which may be Wavering Radiant’s best track) shows just how far Isis had come in creating a different take on what ‘heavy’ can actually mean, embracing pockets of subdued guitars juxtaposed with walls of spaced out sound as opposed to merely chugging away on tired riffing.  

Isis always had an impressive grasp on the art of ebb and flow, an ability that is on full display with the lone representative from 2004’s Panopticon, “Wills Dissolve”, which features a terrific vocal performance from Aaron Turner. While the entire band sounds on point here, the skillset of drummer Aaron Harris is notably on full display during this entire set as he expertly weaves together one ‘left-turn’ after another.  His playing has always been stellar on record, but there is something about this live mix that places his abilities into a more exposed light.  The careening crescendo that is “Carry” is a perfectly executed segue to the epic set closer (and highlight of this album) “Celestial (The Tower)”.

As for the overall sound of this release, there is just enough ambiance to let you know this is a live record, but otherwise, the quality of these recordings far exceeds your typical ‘from the mixing board’ affair.  The only criticism I could wage is that while Singer Aaron Turner’s bark is appropriately set in the middle of an impressively clear mix, his clean vocals do feel a bit buried at times (although to be fair, this is often the case on record as well).  

While Isis (appropriately) draws heavily on their final album Wavering Radiant with Live VII (five of these nine songs to be exact), the band does manage to pull at least one track from each of their other four releases as well.  Whether or not this specific release represents a ‘must own’ probably boils down to where you fall on that particular album, as the other releases in this series feature live sets that more heavily represent their back catalog.  Otherwise, Live VII represents Isis at their peak; a potent reminder to fans that when the band decided to walk away, they did so at the top of their game.

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