posted on 1/2009 By:
You know you’re doing something right when your band’s self-released debut full length has only one big flaw, and it’s the title. A band called Isthmus naming their album Land Bridge is akin to Mastodon dubbing their next release Extinct, Furred Browsing Mammal of the Family Mammutidae, but since this disc is solid on virtually all other fronts, I’m inclined to let it slide. Though this Baltimore troupe definitely falls into the nebulous category of post-metal—a term that seems to become more and more pejorative by the day—they dispense with the soporific build/crescendo/rinse/repeat structures that have rendered the whole ISIS-clone crowd so repetitive. Instead, Isthmus cleave to a much more restless, choppy path, ducking and weaving through Land Bridge’s 41 minutes in a manner sure to please fans of Intronaut, later Mastodon, and the like.
Like all of the aforementioned bands, Isthmus leans heavily on instrumentation to get their point across; vocalist/guitarist’s Noel Muller’s non-axe contributions are limited to delay-soaked, almost wordless clean crooning and equally distant blackened howls (which fortunately have a little more character to them than the usual NeurIsis bellow). Fortunately, there are few moments of aimless “ambience” to wade through, aside from the pointless noise interludes that open and close Land Bridge. The rest of the album is dominated by scintillating, ever-shifting proggy riffage. As expected, Isthmus are a dominating group of musicians, but rarely do they beat you over the head with their playing. Time signatures morph and evolve but never scatter themselves too messily; guitars and bass likewise dance delicately with each other without dissolving into shreddy or deliberately perplexing showmanship. Like Baroness, Isthmus thereby manage to retain some sense of restraint and contemplativeness even during their heavier moments. Land Bridge peaks during the crushing but brief “Perihelion III,” which swings on a beautiful, celestial harmony despite its off-kilter Gojira-esque lurch. Likewise, follow-up “Red Shift 1” soars even while Isthmus’s rhythm section bashes its way through the song’s chugging climax. Land Bridge’s remarkably even and professional production allows Isthmus a full, crystalline set of tones through which to maneuver their nimble sonic girth. Further, its cosmopolitan smoothness allows the band to transfer seamlessly from song to song—rarely does a debut album sound this cohesive.
Though enjoyable and executed with an incredible degree of aplomb for such a young band, Land Bridge can’t quite keep pace with peers like Intronaut, Burst or Impure Wilhelmina—Isthmus simply haven’t worked out a sound distinctive enough to land them in the top tier yet. That said, their balance of melody, atmospherics and futuristic prog heaviness has quite a bit of merit and even more potential; I’m looking forward to hearing more from these guys.
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