For anyone who has an intricate knowledge and understanding of the thirteen year career of Isis, and the benefit of hindsight, “Temporal” presents itself as a history of a band who steadily evolved their sound and aesthetic to a point in which they became the epitome of “post-rock”. Layers of glacial guitar spread thickly over booming percussion, intermittently interspersed with isolated landscapes of sound, punctuated with voices that are occasionally brutal and at other times reminiscent of long forgotten, forsaken nightmares.
The first disc of this two CD set is made up chiefly of demo versions of previously available material. As we have highlighted, this provides the Isis historian with a plethora of interesting and valuable material such as the wordless version of ‘Ghost Key’ from the band’s final release “Wavering Radiant”. With this, and “Threshold of Transformation”, the account of the development of the Isis sound is charted over the disc in reverse chronological order. It may be argued that only the real Isis aficionado may be able to differentiate and appreciate the subtle differences between the versions here and the officially released versions. The percussion may come across as more lucid and less foggy in these embryonic versions and the vocals may be less distinctive and prominent in the mix. One of the previously unreleased tracks closes the first disc, the seventeen minute marathon ‘Grey Divide’. Here we have, encompassed into one piece of music, everything the Isis aesthetic encapsulated. Lumbering, yet focused tension, increasingly mounting by way of grandiose power chord progressions, which ebb and fade only to return with additional vitality and fury. ‘Carry’ and ‘Wills Dissolve’ are an intriguing insight into a band honing their sound, but in this primitive format obviously lack the stately production that uplifts the final releases.
The second disc of the set features a collection of remixes, cover versions and split releases with The Melvins. The two cover versions Godflesh’s ‘Streetcleaner’ and Black Sabbath’s ‘Hand of Doom’ may help to illustrate the range of influences that have helped to mould the Isis signature, whilst at the same time showing the band performing compositions that vary wildly from that signature. A certain muscularity is added to ‘Streetcleaner’, whilst ‘Hand of Doom’ is playful, but not representative of what the band would go on to perfect. What may be harder to come to terms with are the remixes from The Melvins and Thomas Dimuzio of ‘Not In Rivers, But In Drops’ and ‘Holy Tears’ respectively. Here we are obviously seeing how these tunes can be deconstructed and presented with a fresh perspective and set of parameters, but they lack somehow the tension and the momentum of the original versions. Taken from split releases with The Melvins ‘Way Through Woven Branches’ and ‘Pliable Foe’ are the another reason the Isis collector will be satisfied with this set. Both tracks characteristically alternate with aggression and elation before the final acoustic version of ’20 Minutes/40 Years’. Again, as with the remixes, what the lover of the Isis sound craves most is sadly missing on the acoustic rendition. With none of the urgency and impetus of the power chord progressions the track simply appears to meander forward, lost, directionless and without emotion. Having said that, presented with the opportunity to experience Isis in this context will be of special interest to the demographic of this set as a whole.
An argument exists claiming that this posthumous release may be too early to consider so quickly after the group disbanded, not allowing enough time for deliberation and context. It is not a classic “Greatest Hits” release but a collection of vignettes that may be unpalatable for the listener not already familiar with the Isis sound. This is obviously, however, not an essential release in the bands’ catalogue, and more representative work is available elsewhere, but as already stated, as a historical document it is commendable.