Decade of last.fm scrobbling countdown:
17. Isis (1,416 plays)
Top track (255 plays): Weight, from Oceanic (2002)
Boston post-metal masterminds Isis rose to 17th place on my decade-long last.fm list thanks to one of the most captivating albums ever recorded. A lot of bands have taken inspiration from Neurosis to forge a similar sound, but I have yet to hear anything in the genre that pulls it off quite so perfectly as Oceanic. Considering that I have accumulated over 100 plays on every track and a whopping 255 listens to “Weight” (it is, according to my charts, my third most listened-to song over the past ten years), I can safely say that Oceanic never has and never will tire out. Temperance was Isis’s key to success in 2002. From its most intense moments to its most mellow, Oceanic never gives way to bombast or wilts to a bore. It plods along like the sea in which it is thematically set, crushing through impartial waves of harsh vocal and chugging guitar; it mellows with the tide, diving beneath the surface to a world of echoes and subdued pulsations that never cease their eternal drive, varying only in degrees of perpetual, unstoppable force.
My favorite track, “Weight”, begins with a calm that is nearly complete but for a faint, echoing drum. There is nothing foreboding about its growing intensity, but rather, much like Boris’s similarly themed masterpiece Flood, the song manages to increase in mass without losing touch with its sublime and eternal setting. You experience the waves and lulls in a setting apart from time, never feeling a sense of danger, even as you are slowly immersed and dissolved in a weight that encompasses all. It is something like “Jane Doe” by Converge or “Dust and Light” by Krallice without any of the desperation or finality–an experience of dissolving into the eternal totally free of temporal regrets. As the song fades away and the album moves on to “From Sinking”, the transition feels natural; “Weight” does not need to be a closing track, because it is not an obliteration of time into the void. Time was never present to begin with, and the listener experiences the modes of something eternal as a participant, not a witness. I don’t think any other album this heavy could leave me feeling so utterly mellow.
Oceanic is apparently a concept album, telling the entirely human plot of a man driven by lost love to suicide through drowning. But I for one can’t make out the lyrics without looking them up, and the feeling for me is as if the story unfolds from the utterly disinterested eyes of the water itself. I feel immersed in Isis’s oceanic beast from start to finish, lacking all ties to the human realm beyond and personifying the waves themselves, not the sentient individual taken amidst them. It is not until the closing track, “Hym”, that the listener begins to envision the witness’s perspective, sucked out the waves themselves just long enough to be re-engulfed by the drowning.