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TRACK LIST: 1. Unnamed 1:05 2. On Curl of Sand 5:54 3. Perihelion 1:54 4. Perihelion-II 5:26 5. Perihelion-III 2:52 6. Red Shift 3:41 7. Red Shift-II 3:37 8. Land Bridge 6:00 9. Sea Vaporum 4:53 10. Unnamed-II 5:41 LINEUP: Noel Mueller – guitars; vocals Matt Hogans – guitar Chris May – drums Joe Kienie – bass
Prolusion. ISTHMUS is a US outfit that was formed in 2005 and the final line-up was completed early in 2008. "Land Bridge" is their debut album, and was self-released in April 2008.
Analysis. Now this is a nice little surprise in the progressive metal department. Disregarding the three compositions here that basically are sound collages, we're served an innovative venture into the fields of bleak and often rather heavy guitar-dominated metal. But in this case you won't find guitarists trying to break the speed barrier, despite delivering what seem to be complex and highly technical performances. And quite rare in this field of music, guitar soloing is not a feature in the proceedings at all, at least not in the ordinary manner. Probably not as original as they appear to me, as I see that they are compared to other bands (Mastodon, Russian Circles, Intronaut, Neurosis), but even so this is good stuff; with a number of nice details I haven't come across to any great extent previously. The guitar work is obviously the most important aspect of this creation, and in this case we're dealing with constantly evolving and changing structures and sounds. Quirky riff patterns moving from a light sound that makes me think of Rush at times, to slower, brutal and heavy explorations – or vice versa – with quite a few detours towards seemingly undistorted, mellow and melodic themes, with just a slight distorted edge to them as a common feature. The compositions move back and forth between these three rather different landscapes, visiting sounds in between those described as well, and more often than not we're also treated to multi-layered ventures with the tiniest hints of dissonances and disharmonies thrown in to add variation as well as a more detailed and textured sound. The drums and bass underscore this nicely, the bass not given any major or dominant role as far as I could hear, while the drums provide varied rhythms, often intense and at times rather quirky themselves as well. The vocals, although not a highly dominant feature on the four tracks where they are featured, are another aspect worth mentioning. The vocalist opts for the use of black metal inspired guttural vocals; a style I normally have a hard time enjoying. In this instance the delivery is one closer to whispering than the usual aggressive, loud growls though, adding a creepy, almost horror-like atmosphere that suits the music perfectly. Some segments with clean vocals which also are placed in the back of the mix provide a nice variation as well as contrast on this disc. Further variation are given by way of three compositions that basically are sound or noise collages, mostly non-melodic explorations made by assembling various sounds and noises of a fragmented nature with distinct space-tinged layers coming and going, and drawn-out distorted guitar sounds way back in the mix. The overall mood and atmosphere of this album is a dark and bleak one; I found myself thinking that this would be the perfect soundtrack for a feature film about a dead, lifeless planet. Intriguing and compelling, but also creepy, somewhat disturbing and emotionally barren.
Conclusion. The US act Isthmus comes across as a highly talented outfit and has produced a remarkable first release with "Land Bridge". The style and sound of this band come across as innovative as well as creative, especially when it comes to providing some finer details in compositions often aggressive, heavy and bleak. It's a release well worth checking out for those looking for something a bit out of the ordinary in the metal department.
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