A year after their dissolution, post-metal powerhouse Isis is preparing to digitally re-release its entire live discography on a fortnightly basis throughout the summer of 2011. The set of five albums unfortunately does not contain any new material, but for those of you who skipped acquiring them while the band was still active, some of these albums may satiate your need for some fresh Isis material to listen to.
And for some reason, Live.03 is the only release that contains any pieces from any album after Oceanic. It consists of the entirety of Isis' classic album Panopticon save “Syndic Calls,” which was suspiciously exchanged for “The Beginning and the End.” While normally I'd cite this as a complaint vis-à-vis the lack of variety of material on the album, this is the only place in Isis' live reissues where there is any material from Panopticon at all. You can just flat-out forget about hearing anything from In the Absence of Truth or Wavering Radiant. In that light, I'm willing to forgive the tack selection for being somewhat staid.
However, the track selection matters little when the quality of the audio is lacking. Taken from another one of Isis' fan's bootlegs, the sound leaves a lot to be desired. I wouldn't characterize it as bad per se, but it does feel incredibly lacklustre. It's listenable, but for some reason the performance really seems more flat and uninspired than it actually was. The vocals also seem really distant and disconnected, and the audience reactions feel empty. I sounds the same way diet cola tastes: watered down. It feels like the audio quality is actively dulling what is otherwise an enjoyable performance.
That's really unfortunate, because a lot of the performances here are actually quite good. “So Did We” is a flawlessly executed opener, and the performance of “Grinning Mouths” I liked more than the studio recording. The sixteen minute extended jam version of “Altered Course” is also, to use the appropriate term, fucking amazing. The spacey drones and screeching guitars actually make the piece many more times effective than the original. Whereas the studio version tended to drone on for just a bit too long with the second half, this version uses the extended improvisations to rescue it from peril with aplomb.
Some of the performances are less intense, sadly. “In Fiction” in particular feels a bit forced, and there are a couple of flubbed notes on “The Beginning and the End” that really drag you out of immersion in the music. And as much as I love this version of “Altered Course,” it has its issues as well. Drummer Aaron Harris seems to take his snare drumming hand out for a cup of coffee for a few measures in the middle of the piece, and there is at least one jarringly screwed up chord that entirely ruins the mood of this otherwise perfect performance. Again, a lot of the dullness can be blamed on the souring effect of the audio, but some of these mistakes were avoidable.
As much as I really want to like Live.03, it's difficult to get beyond how bland the recording sounds. Don't get me wrong, this album really does have its superb moments (I'm looking at you, “Altered Course”), but that's just what they are—moments. As a whole, it sounds dull and boring when it seems like it should sound amazing. I'm certain someone without a stick up her pretentious ass will find this album a perfectly fine, maybe even above-average listen. However, whilst I remain in a sedentary repose in my local independent coffeeshop, clothed in naught but my Rush shirt and skinny jeans, I sip my six dollar no foam half-caf soy milk mochaccino (no whip) and feel I cannot bring myself to enjoy such a recorded album as a whole.
5.5 / 10
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