Isis rock in return to Boston

A review of Isis at the Paradise Rock Club on June 5, 2009

, Staff Writer

It’s a good time for stoner rock. Concept albums have been making a comeback, and some really good bands that have been paying dues for years are finally getting a little more attention from the mainstream. The sold-out performance by Isis at the Paradise on Friday was a testament to the power of long, crafted compositions laden with avant-garde rhythms and bangin’ guitar work.

Given the trend of performing concept albums in their entirety these days, it would have been fitting if Isis had come onstage and played a cover-to-cover performance of Wavering Radiant, which was released in March. While the set drew heavily from the new album, the band tossed in a few nuggets from past albums and switched up the order of songs, bringing a dose of unpredictability to the evening and pleasing the hometown crowd. Opening up with “Hall of the Dead,” track one of Wavering Radiant, Isis held court to an overflowing Paradise Rock Club from the first note to the last.

The floor at the club was absolutely jammed. I’ve covered sold out shows at the ‘Dise in the past but this was by far the most crowded I’ve seen it. Nobody wanted to stand upstairs and survey the crowd while leaning, they wanted to stuff themselves as tight and as close to the stage as possible, to jam together like a vacuum-packed rock show audience, and sway. The atmosphere worked. Onstage, the band could have been rocking out to an elaborate light show at the House of Blues, but they weren’t. They were kicking ass with barely any stage effects, shaking the floor of a tiny club in their hometown.

Formed in Boston in 1997, Isis relocated to Los Angeles in 2003 and have been furthering the evolution of their sound with each new release. Blending prog-rock, ambient, and metal, Isis have had a major impact on post-metal. Bands like Cult of Luna, Tides, and touring partners Pelican cite them as major influences. They’ve gained notoriety among the west coast art scene. Their albums revolve around complex themes involving towers, mosquitoes, and water. They drop references to Don Quixote and the philosophies of Jeremy Bentham. It’s heavy shit, this metal music.

“Hall of the Dead” was followed by "20 Minutes / 40 Years," another from Wavering Radiant, the band launched into “Dulcinea,” from 2006’s In The Absence of Truth. Aaron Turner and Michael Gallagher played separate guitars as if they’re the same instrument, and Aaron Harris was a monster behind the drum kit. The ambiance and buzz of the synthesizers snaked though the weight of all these instruments and brought out the darkness by sounding so light. The lengthy solos and slowly building intensity of the music made the crowd pay attention and appreciate the fine musicianship of the band.

After closing their set with a stellar rendition of “Carry” from 2002’s Oceanic (which, by the way, is the Isis album to buy), the band came back and burned through “Celestial (The Tower)” from 2000’s Celestial. A treat for the old-school fans, they totally tore things down.

Opening for Isis were Chicago post-metal act Pelican, whose searing instrumentals and balls-out jams were worthy of a headlining slot themselves. Playing an aggressive set that really got everyone ready to rock, they proved a hard act to follow.

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