Austin, Texas, SXSW 2005
Emo's Annex, Friday, March 18
Friday night's Hydrahead showcase started out as headbanging heaven, but ended in sheer musical transcendence. After the agro spectacle of These Arms Are Snakes, Chicago fourpiece Pelican shook with their precise instrumental drone-metal. The distortion was dense and saturated to perfection, as is everything on Aaron Turner's stellar label. Leaping and banging in unison, Pelican's drone was but a harbinger of what was to follow. Boston's Isis took the stage afterward, its six master sculptors building up so many expert permutations of riffage, melody, and multitextured sheets of sound as to almost embarrass a band as good as Pelican. Isis is Turner's baby, and over the course of three LPs and particularly last year's Panopticon, the sextet has all but eradicated the barriers between underground metal and the Mogwai school of shoegazing indie rock. On cuts like "Backlit" and "Altered Course," emotive, chiming guitars churn and build into slow-motion bomblike riffs, while ethereal synths slowly unfurl around Turner's grand vocal melodies at the heart of this grand sonic maelstrom. Demonic growls reverberate as through the atmosphere of a distant planet, but they're complemented by Turner's tortured, smoky melodies, giving this leviathan of a rock band a precious spark of humanity.