Isis never seemed like the type of band to hold anything back. During their 13-year career, the post-metal figureheads released five full-lengths and four EPs before disbanding in 2010. Each full-length was separated by two to three years, and if the band wasn’t on the road, it seems like every waking moment of their time was spent developing their next move. The songs became more intricate, the lyrical themes more elaborate, the sense of scope and sonic traveling ever more vast. They were able to retain the gut-level crunch of their earlier material while weaving in elements that offered the band something approaching beauty, whether it came in the form of Jeff Caxide’s luminescent, New Order-level bass leads, the lush blossoms of Bryant Clifford Meyer’s electronic contributions, or the increasing confidence of Aaron Turner’s roar. Their tireless pursuit of high achievement makes the existence of Temporal a little odd. Although it does fans the favor of collecting several limited edition tracks on one release, it also acts as a final act of vault cleaning, and while it’s still satisfying to re-immerse oneself in the huge sonic worlds Isis was able to create, there’s a certain “seeing how the sausage is made” element. Chunks of Temporal will be inessential at best for casual fans, meant to appease only the diehards.
Spread across two discs, nearly two hours, and every phase of their career (a third disc collects all of the band’s music videos), the majority of the questionable inclusions pop up on Disc One. Wavering Radiant‘s “Ghost Key” turns up as an instrumental, stripped of its keyboards. Sure, the section that pops up about four and a half minutes in still rips, even in embryonic form, but the build to get there seems so much more indistinct. Oceanic gets two nods in the form of “Wills Dissolve” and “False Light,” sandwiching Panopticon track “Carry.” All of these appear in demo form, sounding like they were recorded by a microphone set up in another room, making for an extremely muddled mix. Wavering Radiant closer “Threshold of Transformation” actually benefits from the rougher demo mix it receives, with Turner’s vocals coming out even harsher than usual, the closing section seeming even more expansive. Closing out the first disc is the only real new track to be found on this collection (because, let’s be honest: “Temporal” is just a two minute thing Isis would use as an interlude, and they know it), and it just about justifies the cost of admission. “Grey Divide” is a behemoth, a 16:34 instrumental monster slab of melancholy riffage that drags itself through klaxons of feedback to a roaring conclusion. It’s a CliffNotes version of just about everything the band was able to do well.
Disc two is where we truly get the rarities, the tracks that appeared on Japanese pressings of certain EPs, or splits with bands like Pig Destroyer and the Melvins. It’s where we conveniently have their barnburning, banner-waving cover of Godflesh’s “Streetcleaner” bumping up against their endearingly goofy run through Black Sabbath’s “Hand Of Doom,” and where you get to hear the Melvins and Lustmord run In The Absence Of Truth‘s “Not In Rivers, But Drops” through a mixing board meat grinder. Most commendable: it allows a larger audience to bear witness to the band’s final transmissions, “Way Through Woven Branches” and “Pliable Foe,” both of which appeared on a posthumous split with the Melvins. It is on this disc that we truly get to see the different sides of the band, instead of the stone-faced doomsayers that appeared on each full-length.
Perhaps two years after their split was the only time Isis felt comfortable finally presenting their material in less flattering lights. This is not meant to be a knock, as their high standard of presentation and composition is something bands should actively strive for at all times. Nonetheless, the sentiment of “less flattering” unfortunately hurts Temporal‘s overall value. Despite its status as half fans-only curiosity, half essential rarities comp, it’s still nice to re-enter Isis’ world one more time, even if it’s just to say goodbye once again.