One of the most prominent practitioners of the "epic" metal song — tracks characterized by gradual, repetitive buildups and cathartic detonations — Isis demonstrates its mastery of the craft on its latest release, In the Absence of Truth. The album places less emphasis on ebb-and-flow dynamics than previous efforts, a conscious reaction to what bassist Jeff Caxide calls "the influx of generic instrumental crescendo bands," but it's no less impressive in scope. Stocked with 6- to 8-minute songs, this coherent 64-minute record could function as an individual track, though Isis decided not to be that heavy-handed.
"We prefer that people listen to it from start to finish, but that's just not the way things are," Caxide says. "There's not much you can do about it except for sequence the record so it makes sense to listen to it from beginning to end. This might sound cheesy to say, but we think of the album as a journey."
Orlando Weekly asked Caxide for his impressions on other epic works of art, from prog-rock poetry to big-screen wizardry:
The Moody Blues, Days of Future Passed The Moody Blues unveiled their self-described "cosmic" sound on this 1967 record. The 7:38 track "Nights in White Satin" is the album's signature song.
Epic influence: Days of Future Passed pioneered the use of symphonic instrumentation on a rock album, presaging everything from the Beatles' White Album to Blind Guardian's A Night at the Opera.
Jeff Caxide: I must confess my ignorance — I don't know a goddamn thing about the Moody Blues.
Orlando Weekly: Reportedly, the group started crying while recording "Nights in White Satin." Has Isis ever weathered a breakdown in the studio?
JC: There have been frustrating songs, but I don't know that anyone's been reduced to tears. If they have, they never let it be known to the rest of the band.
Iron Butterfly, "In-a-Gadda-da-Vida" Incorporating rock's most infamously lengthy drum solo, not to mention extended guitar and organ jams, this 1967 single boasted a 17:08 running time.
Epic influence: "In-a-Gadda-da-Vida" established an early connection between heavy metal and flashy virtuosity.
JC: I'm familiar with that one, but I can't say I'm a big fan. To me, jamming is really self-indulgent. Playing like that might be fun for the musicians, but I would think that listening to it would be boring. The last thing I would want to do was bore anyone live. For us, it's just about writing songs, not about noodling and fucking around.
Led Zeppelin, "Stairway to Heaven" Clocking in at 8:04, this 1971 album track remains one of the longest tunes in regular classic-rock rotation.
Epic influence: Despite its daunting structure, "Stairway to Heaven" became a favorite learning tool for fledgling guitarists, a situation parodied with the "No ‘Stairway'!" warnings in Wayne's World's music store and Guitar Hero 2. After mastering these riffs, young strummers become convinced of their ability to craft similar songs, making this the song that launched a thousand multipart suites.
JC: "Stairway to Heaven" is epic, in a "Bohemian Rhapsody"/Queen kinda way. But I've gotta confess, I'm the only one in Isis who isn't a big Led Zeppelin fan. When I think epic, I think Pink Floyd and the Swans. Those were the bands I really admired.
The Lord of the Rings film trilogy Peter Jackson's cinematic adaptations of J.R.R. Tolkien's Zeppelin-referenced fantasy-realm novels.
Epic influence: This series continues to populate power-metal lyrics with orcs and elves.
JC: I'm a big film fan, so I appreciated them on a technical level. But I don't really connect with movies like that. I don't understand what's going on and who these characters are, or if this guy's a wizard, why doesn't he use his magic to kill the dragon instead of using a sword? To me, an epic movie is something like 2001. I'd hope people would equate our music with something like that rather than Dungeons and Dragons.
Isis, untitled Charlotte's Web project According to Isis' Wikipedia page, the band is constructing a bizarre H.P. Lovecraft-influenced Charlotte's Web concept album that incorporates "love, loss, transgendered romance, isolation, mosquitoes, the tower, femininity and man's search for a post-Neanderthal construct."
Epic influence: Written in academic, ostentatiously polysyllabic prose, this is the "In-a-Gadda-da-Vida" of fraudulent Wikipedia entries.
JC: That's total bullshit. I was doing an interview in Australia and the guy said something about that, and I said, "Wow, that actually sounds pretty interesting." I e-mailed the rest of the band and said "Hey guys, is there something I should know about?"firstname.lastname@example.org