I’ve done my absolute best these last six months or so to buy as little music as humanly possible. As I’ve lost jobs and seen my income go from what it was last year at this time to half that, to less than half that, to nothing, it’s felt like the very least I can do to stop scrolling through online shops or thumb my way through record bins trying just basically looking for one more thing to own. Just out of fairness to The Patient Mrs., if the actual financial concern isn’t enough. I won’t lie: I’ve missed it. And it hasn’t been easy. Between new stuff that’s come out in the last year — I’ve got a running list on a post-it note on my wall and it goes back a ways by now — and the joy of actually going to a store and finding something used I never expected to see and sometimes didn’t even remember I wanted, I’ve felt like something that I used to really enjoy, I can no longer do because I don’t have the money to spend.
At least I ever did, right? I’m not saying I’ve got it tougher than anyone — ever — because basically I don’t. My point is that when I ran into the pre-release version of Isis‘ 2000 full-length debut, Celestial, yesterday at Armageddon Shop in Boston, it was something I knew I shouldn’t buy. I knew it was there. They had three of them at one point — Celestial, 1998’s preceding Mosquito Control (it might’ve been The Red Sea) and 2001’s subsequent SGNL>05 EPs — and I had seen them a few months back last time I was in the store, in the case at the counter in a small box of oddly-shaped or rare CDs. You have to ask to look. Yesterday, after perusing the wall of discs and feeling positive about a three-dollar copy of Cavity‘s On the Lam, I decided to take another gander at the Isis discs. I knew what they were, I didn’t imagine they were gone, and I knew how much they cost: $29.99. Not cheap for anything at this point, let alone an album I’ve already owned for more than a decade.
I suppose I could say that it was the fact that Mosquito Control was gone from the box that called me to action in buying Celestial — getting both that and SGNL>05 would’ve been absolutely out of the question, and given the choice, I’ll take the full-length — and maybe that was a factor, but the root of it was more that I miss buying records. I miss going to a store, picking up something like this and delighting at the prospect of making it mine. I wanted it. It was overpriced, but the inside liner confirms that, indeed, there were only 40 of them made (mine is number 24), and put out by Escape Artist Records in advance of the album itself. Yeah, the cover art hijacked from the self-titled Godflesh EP was also a factor, my enjoyment of that blatant acknowledgement of influence made only more fervent by knowing they used the same cover for these versions of the other releases as well. All three sitting there, daring anyone who’d look at them to recognize that face.
That’s not to take away from the impact of Celestial sonically. I think we’re probably still a couple years too close to post-metal’s overexposure — bands taking no small measure of influence from Isis‘ largely unfuckwithable first three long-players; Celestial, 2002’s Oceanic and 2004’s Panopticon — and just hammering those ideas into the ground, but Celestial still remains about as close to “atmospheric sludge” as anyone has ever come, an aggression metered out across varied, lurching cuts like “Deconstructing Towers” and the later “Collapse and Crush” interspersed with ambient interludes titled to maximize a theme that would soon enough tie in with the follow-up EP. A breath-stealing undertaking at over 51 minutes, the pre-release version advises, “Listen to this goddamm (sic) thing the whole way through for best results,” but with a record as densely packed and, at times, vicious as Celestial was at the time, they weren’t by any means making it easy. Then based on the East Coast, Isis were a direct answer to the Bay Area’s Neurosis at their most unbridled, and while their musical paths would diverge, that influence, as well as that of Godflesh, would remain a typifying factor throughout much of Isis‘ career, for better or worse.
So yeah, Celestial crushes, and it still crushes, and between that and the added nerdout factor of the swiped artwork, the limited release and my own wistfulness at the thought of leaving it there again, I picked it up. I won’t say I don’t feel guilty, because money really is tighter than would allow for such things, but cash comes and goes and this is mine now.
Got that Cavity too, so right on.