Isis | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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From its inception there's been a cerebral strain in heavy music, though its detractors have rarely approved of the thinking going on: consider Rush's elaborate thematic and musical edifices, or even Led Zeppelin's frequent nods to the occult. (Aleister Crowley's writing is pretty thorny stuff--if Jimmy Page actually understands the fellow, he's got a leg up on most countercultural intellectuals.) Likewise most of the best progressive metal bands active today--Mastodon, Neurosis, Pelican--are no dummies, and they're proud to wear their erudition on their sleeves (or at least in their liner notes). The CD insert for Isis's new Panopticon (Ipecac) quotes Jeremy Bentham and Michel Foucault, among others, but even if you've never read those guys you can still appreciate this quintet's attempt to render thought as sound: the music shifts like a nimble mind, with long high guitar lines unraveling through thickets of chugging chords like ideas being teased out to their conclusions. The loud-soft, rise-fall dynamics seem to arise from the growth of the songs themselves, instead of being used to nudge them forward, and the flow from quiet power to loud power is as seamless as an internal dialogue--almost like a conversation between the two hemispheres of the brain. Isis front man Aaron Turner has released Pelican and Neurosis records on his Hydra Head label, and Pelican is warming up for his band here. These Arms Are Snakes and Sweet Cobra open. Friday 11/26, 9 PM, Metro, 3730 N. Clark, 773-549-0203 or 312-559-1212, $13, 18+.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Joshua Hellman.

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