When Isis called it quits they had already secured a legacy for themselves. Long at the forefront of post-metal they finished their career with five very well regarded albums, one of which is now regarded as an alternative metal classic. Even so, it came as a surprise to many, especially as there had been no hints of dissolution beforehand; no noticeable waning of output or of touring schedules. The announcement came with a sudden finality, a sincere message on their website, a few farewell shows and that would be that.
Three years later and the fans are granted their post-script with Temporal. No, it is not a new album but a collection of B-sides, demos, remixes and unreleased material. Career retrospectives such as these can be very rewarding to the loyal follower but they can also be greeted with hostility, and sometimes for good reason. If you’ve already said what you wanted to say then releasing a bunch of rarities can seem pointless or worse still, money-grubbing.
Isis is certainly not cashing in, but they do not offer much in the way of closure either. It’s a shame that a band of such substance should release something that is, by both quality and quantity, so insubstantial. Hearing the demo versions of classic tracks is certainly enjoyable from an anorak’s perspective, the covers are fun and the remixes are reasonably compelling but one is constantly thinking, “is that it?”
The demo tracks are, on the whole, quite a let down. There are six demos on the album: five versions of released material and one of an unreleased track. With the exception of “Ghost Key“, these four versions are entirely superfluous, and really only sound like mixes of songs without any studio polish. There is some amelioration in the form of “Grey Divide“, the aforementioned new and unreleased tune. It’s sixteen minutes long, so you certainly get your money’s worth. This epic has everything you’d expect from the band: multi-layered melodies, crushing riffs and bold, progressive orchestration. It’s not quite the triumph it ought to be though, so it’s not surprising that it has been left out of any of the studio albums or EPs.
The two covers are what redeem the tedium. Fans of Godflesh and Black Sabbath will be excited to hear the band’s renditions of their respective classics. “Streetcleaner“, which was already a colossal hulk, is given fresh imminence and doom with a brutalising rework. Similarly, it’s a real treat to hear a band that had for so long been defined by portent and seriousness cutting loose and grooving together on a gleefully stoned re-imagining of “Hand of Doom“.
The two remixes are also engaging listening. The first, produced by both The Melvins and Lustmord, takes “Not In Rivers, But In Drops” and makes it a whole lot heavier, diluting much of the melody in favour of placing emphasis on the track’s rumbling low-end. They even manage the impossible by making Aaron Turner’s guttural roars sound nearly comprehensible. Even so, it is composer and sound engineer Thomas Dimuzio’s remix of “Holy Tears” that succeeds. Just as Broaderick did on his fantastic revision of “Hym“, Dimuzio manages to strip the song down and then rebuild it, making it starker, more expressive, all without losing any of its original brilliance.
Despite these high points the ending is still lazy. There are two tunes, “Way Through the Woven Branches” and “Pliable Foe” which are both jaw-dropping in their own right, but considering as how both of these tracks have been released before (on The Melvins Split EP) they add nothing new to the band’s oeuvre. Finally we are afforded an acoustic version of “20 Minutes/40 Years” that is pleasant but ponderous, and certainly not a fulfilling closer.
All told this isn’t the conclusion Isis deserves. Perhaps it is naïve to expect better from the notorious B-side album but even so the material on offer does not do much justice to the band’s definitive career. It is, at best, a collection of odds and ends to sate the hardcore devotees who have been clamouring for just one more record, one more tune, one more statement. The problem is it could and should be so, so much better.