Reviews Isis Celestial (Re-Issue)

Isis

Celestial (Re-Issue)


I could make a career out of doing reviews of Isis reissues. But what makes reviewing Celestial so difficult is that it is already a legendary album, to the point where everything to be said about it from a critical standpoint has been said before. So instead of trying to sell you on the album itself (because really, it's just fucking great), I'm going to examine Ipecac's 2013 reissue to see what's new.

Whereas Neruosis's seminal Through Silver in Blood rose from its sludgy past to formally invent post-metal as a genre, it took Isis to codify it and fully explore its capabilities. As such, the original version of Celestial was designed to exploit its sludgy ancestry to its fullest. Far from the pristine quality of later releases like PanopticonCelestial was meant to sound dirty, raw, and crusty--and, by and large, it succeeded. However, in listening to it now, a lot of those qualities seem at odds with where Isis would take their music in the future--guitars seem to have just a hair too much fuzz, the vocals seem ever so slightly buzzy, and the mixing seems to have a different set of values. To put it uncharitably, the album sounds messy (and it's much to Isis's credit that its material is so good that this can be overlooked).

Which brings us to the main draw of the Ipecac reissue: the remastered audio by James Plotkin (sound familiar?). While tampering with legends might be considered sacrilege by some, Plotkin nonetheless gets his hands dirty so he can clean up that mess, and the result is an album that's as crystal clear as anything else in Isis's discography. This makes the ambient sections (like the second half of "Celestial (The Tower)") much more familiar to folks who entered with, say, Wavering Radiant. The mixing also gets an update, throwing the bass right up in your face and making the vocals just a touch more distant, an artfully satisfying decision.

Purists, however, should not fret: though there may be a hint of unifying conformity at play with the mix, the album doesn't lose any of its dirty ancestry. Enough of the former sludginess shines through even the brightest of polishes that no listener can forget where this album really started.

The only other major change to the Ipecac reissue is the updated artwork by Aaron Turner. While it keeps the typographical style and hints of the colour scheme from the original, it takes the original tower theme and runs with it in a completely different direction, resulting in some of the most stunning and actively moving album art from a band normally known for its reservedness in that regard. (And it's not just the cover; he hid probably his best piece of artwork in the booklet, of all places.)

This is about as generally respectful and faithful an update as any listener could hope for, and we should be grateful to have it (and the increased accessibility it comes with). If you haven't heard Celestial yet, this is the version you should buy--without a doubt, it's of a superior quality than the original. If you already own the original version, the change isn't exactly so prevalent as to demand that you update. But if you're a hardcore Isis fan like myself, then you owe it to yourself to hear this album as it has been realized here. 

(And though I liked the subtlety of the original recording, Aaron Turner has previously expressed his dissatisfaction with the original sound of In the Absence of Truth. Now that we know Isis aren't adverse to revisiting their back catalogue, maybe that one will see an update as well?)

Recommended if you like: not being the only person on Earth who hasn't heard this album

9.0 / 10Sarah
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Ipecac

2013

9.0 / 10

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