I absolutely love Isis--I can't get enough of that perfectly executed ambient/sludge mix that they've come to be known for. And for someone like me who loves them enough to delve into the deepest corners of their catalogue, their 2012 rarities compilation Temporal came as a welcome entry to their discography.
Disc one begins with your standard assortment of demo material. Unfortunately, while the sound quality is generally superb, there's very little variance between the demos and the finished product, making listening to them kind of redundant. This is especially true for the demos of "Threshold of Transformation", "Carry", and "False Light", which are almost note-for-note the same as their studio counterparts. They're not unpleasant to listen to, to be fair, they're just clearly inferior than their polished versions. And while the demos for "Ghost Key" and "Wills Dissolve" are labelled as 'alternate' takes, the only noticeable differences are that they eliminate the vocals. So, if you're into that kind of thing, hey, good news.
Out of all the demos on disc one, the only truly interesting track is the monstrous epic "Grey Divide", which was never officially released as a studio recording. Clocking in at sixteen and a half minutes, it's easy to see why it was hard to find a place for this recording in their studio output. Composition-wise it's not a far cry from Oceanic-era Isis, and it's a surprisingly strong composition for something that never officially saw release. This track is one of the few worthwhile gems in the collection that will make it worth it to any Isis fan.
The second disc is where the real meat of this compilation is. It starts off with two cover tracks, which are of Godflesh's "Streetcleaner" and Black Sabbath's "Hand of Doom". Both of these were previously only available on the nigh-impossible to find EP Sawblade (though, to be fair, "Streetcleaner" was also featured on Isis's split EP with Pig Destroyer). "Streetcleaner" is pretty great as it showcases Isis at their most brutal, whereas "Hand of Doom" actually doesn't sound that much different from the rest of Isis's output, just much more straightforward.
Following the covers are two remix tracks previously featured only on some hard to find singles: The Melvins/Lustmord remix of "Not in Rivers, But in Drops" (from the "Holy Tears" single) and the Thomas Dimuzio remix of "Holy Tears" (from the "Not in Rivers, But in Drops" single). Yeah, I'm pretty sure they're fucking with us. The thing is, while both of these are exemplary remixes, they're nowhere near the best to be found in Isis' catalogue. The legendary Justin Broadrick's remixes, for example, are leagues better (check out the SGNL>05 EP and the second Oceanic remix EP to hear what I'm talking about). That being said, those are the two that are harder to find, making their presence here welcome.
Then, stuffed in between the interesting stuff, comes the title track, the only new studio recording to be found on this two-disc compilation. What's really disappointing is that it's essentially filler--it's two minutes of otherwise uninteresting ambiance, acting as a buffer between the remixes and the studio material. It's just kind of...there.
That track leads into the two songs taken from their split EP with The Melvins, "Way Through Woven Branches" and "Pliable Foe", both of which were recorded during the Wavering Radiant sessions. (The former was also the Japanese-only bonus track for Wavering Radiant, and the latter was also featured on the free-to-download compilation Metal Swim). These two tracks are the real diamonds in the rough. Not only is it great to have some new studio material to sink your teeth into, both of these tracks are incredibly great in their own regards. Though they don't quite fit in stylistically with Wavering Radiant (hence why they were likely left off), they showcase Isis at the top of their compositional game, and any fan of the band will enjoy listening to these ("Pliable Foe" in particular).
Finally, capping off the interesting material is an 'acoustic' version of "20 Minutes / 40 Years", originally from Wavering Radiant. This track is nice and enjoyable, if a bit confusing--the 'acoustic' instrumentation doesn't really add much to the music, and for a band like Isis, arguably a lot is lost in anything but the optimal set up. But it's a fun diversion nonetheless, and shows that the band was capable of more than even they let on during their career.
Some editions of Temporal come with a third disc of audio material, which is full of another selection of demos. My copy does not include these, so I can't really say if they're any good or not. My educated guess is that they're probably not much better than the selections on disc one, and judging from the tracklisting, there aren't any unreleased studio tracks or otherwise interesting demos to make me feel like I'm actually missing something. Take that for what you will.
Finally, the last disc of this compilation is a DVD containing all of the music videos from Isis's career, of which there are a surprisingly large number. Some of them were previously available: "In Fiction" was originally on the Clearing the Eye live DVD, and "Not in Rivers, But in Drops" and "Holy Tears" were available on their respective singles. As far as I can tell, "20 Minutes / 40 Years" and "Pliable Foe" are the videos that can only be found on this compilation.
I don't really care for Isis's music videos because it seems like their respective directors are intent on capturing as much of the artistic quality from the music as they can in the video itself. While this sounds like a noble goal, in practice, it tends to just create frustratingly boring and nonsensical videos that insist on their own artiness to the point of detracting from the music significantly. Unlike videos for bands like Tool, Isis's videos rarely use that arty quality to add anything worthwhile to the music. The only video that is actually worth watching is the one for "Holy Tears", and that's if I'm being generous. True, dedicated fans of the band will appreciate them, but casual fans will be, at best, confused.
Don't get me wrong--Temporal has some great rare, archival material in it. But, as a completionist, I was really hoping for more rare and hard-to-find studio recordings instead of flavourless and uninteresting demos. In fact, there is a bunch of hard-to-find and out-of-print Isis material that would've been welcome in lieu of demos, such as The Mosquito Control EP and the other two tracks off of Sawblade, which are both currently unavailable digitally.* But these are the exceptions to the rule--Generally speaking, Isis has done a great job making sure that other odds and ends in their catalogue, like their collaborative release with Aereogramme In the Fishtank 14 and the In the Absence of Truth singles, are available digitally.
In summary, there are quite a few hidden gems in this compilation, but, unfortunately, they come packaged with a whole lot of stuff that no one really needs nor wants. If you're a diehard Isis fan, then definitely buy this, because "Grey Divide" is worth the price alone. But if you're not prepared to proclaim your long-lasting devotion to this band, then just grab "Pliable Foe" off of iTunes and forget about the rest of this collection--it's interesting, but not that interesting.
* If I'm wrong about this, email me. I want to pay them for digital copies of these releases.
When Isis called it a day, it felt as if a part of me was ending in a similar manner as the band had meant so much to me over the course of their prestigious run; but hanging over their end statement was the promise of one last recording to be given to the band’s listeners, and, with Temporal, the band finally gives that last recording to its throngs of supporters. You might be asking yourself what exactly is on this massive 2xCD + DVD set (or 3xLP + DVD set for vinyl nerds or 3xCD + DVD for our friends in Japan or insane fans who import the set) and that would be a fair question as Isis was never really a band that did singles or rare b-sides for that matter (for the most part, though there was the Sawblade EP), but Temporal does have a few surprises.
So besides the plethora of demo and alternate recordings for songs from (Wavering Radiant) and Oceanic as well as the two remixes from the In The Absence Of Truth singles (and the demos from Panopticon if you have the Japanese version of this compilation) Temporal contains two unreleased songs, the Sawblade EP (covers of “Hand Of Doom” and Godflesh’s “Streetcleaner”, and the two songs from the split with The Melvin’s; Isis provide a huge amount of material for what is more than likely their last horde of studio recordings, but as to how integral the release is depends on how much of a fan of the band that you might be.
The demos for the band’s albums are neat to hear, but only the most rabid fan will truly appreciate them as anyone else will have already heard these songs already in some form (the same goes for the remixes that are included here, neither of which are as successful in the terms of Isis remixes as most of the remix album for Oceanic); still there are some definite gems to be found on Temporal that make this monster slab of music well worth the effort of grabbing.
The first time that I heard “The Grey Divide” (one of the two unreleased tracks), I was utterly spellbound by its expansive beauty and powerful sound regardless of the fact that the song is an instrumental; the song not only serves as what could possibly be the missing link between Celestial and Oceanic but also as one of the most emotionally effective songs in the whole Isis oeuvre, making the song one of the true gems of this huge amount of sound on Temporal. The songs (“Pliable Foe” and “Way Woven Through Branches”) from the split with The Melvins are also excellent additions considering that the vinyl LP version of the songs has been long gone for quite some time.
While a great gift to long time fans, Temporal’s massive amount of music might scare the casual listener away; though, I will say that the compilation is a worthwhile addition to the Isis discography and not simply a release for die hard fans only as there is plenty of rare goodies here that make it a wholly worthwhile purchase, and if you ever fancied yourself as a fanatic follower of Isis, then you will need to grab Temporal.
6.0 / 10
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