‘Poison egg, the implement…’
Isis’ label-backed debut EP Mosquito Control is in retrospect highly reflective of their transitional nature. This is not the sound that we would hear on Panopticon, which says a lot when 3 of that album’s 5 performers also made this. It’s also an early peak for the band, being a very consistent and complete work for such a young band’s debut EP. It’s not what the band became famous for innovating or that original but it shows off an outfit that clearly had the talent needed become something even more, something truly special. And that’s not to take away from this release; it may not be what put them on the map but it’s still a fantastic listen.
Mosquito Control is a crop of tracks that are some of the heaviest and most crushing in Isis’ entire catalogue, with the band playing a rather mid-tempo sludge metal style with a lot of hardcore worked in there and some shots of doom metal at points. ‘Life Under the Swatter’ is a noisier, somewhat faster track and very frenetic that has a lot more hardcore influence and is laced with a jittering, busy drum performance and the hisses of the mosquito swarms alluded to in the lyrics, while ‘Hive Destruction’ sees the band throwing in more groovy, traditional sludge metal riffing while keeping the pace up. Whatever the band go for they have the chops and ideas to pull it off; the guitarwork is consistently busy, interesting and helps drive the song forward with the drums playing a supporting role by matching the complexity, texture and tone of the riffing. The vocal style here is unique to this release in their discography; Aaron Turner’s vocals here are a powerful and intense shout/rasp/shriek that matches the searing instrumentation behind them, and they’re some of the gnarliest vocals he would ever deliver.
The band varies up each song nicely, bringing in multiple contrasting sections such as the tense ambient bridge of ‘Life Under the Swatter’, the groovy doom/sludge breakdown of ‘Hive Destruction’ or the acoustic intro of ‘Poison Eggs’, as well as a good number of riffs and changes in tempo. Critically, the band can weave all of these together and progress effortlessly from one part to the next in a controlled fashion, not coming across as incoherent or choppy which would subtract from the crushing, oppressive atmosphere found throughout this release, which is generated through a combination of excellent songwriting and strong execution of the music (especially the riffs.) The production is great too; everything sounds very large, clear, crisp and heavy. The low end of the bass consistently rumbling away in the background gives the music more weight, while the drums pound hard and the guitars have a thick and sludgy tone to match. It’s all mixed well too (the guitars are slightly above the drums but below the vocals), helping to bring out the most in the music.
There’s also a good amount of variation across the track list; every song here has an identity of its own with the epic, more melodic opener ‘Poison Eggs’ setting the stage with its fantastic build-up from its acoustic intro to the meat of the track, where the band cycle through the main riff and slower breakdown sections along with an ambient build-up to a heavy finish. ‘Life Under the Swatter’ and ‘Hive Destruction’ are shorter in both size and stature and while they are the lesser songs here, they do still keep the energy up and bring their own aforementioned ideas into the fold. ‘Poison Eggs’ and its more epic, atmospheric scope is in retrospect a hint towards their future direction but a much larger hint is the closer and my personal favourite track ‘Relocation Swarm’. It’s an experimental epic that dwarfs even the opener at nearly 12 minutes in length, one that in both structure and feel foreshadows their later post-metal material. The first 4 or so minutes consist of ominous, chugging doom metal verses laden with barely audible sampled narration and brief, sparse vocals from Aaron, before a drop-out section featuring more samples gives rise to another chugging doom riff and agonised shouts from Aaron as the band pile on more and more noise, continuing on for the remainder of the song until the band is consumed entirely by this noise. It’s a gargantuan finish to this amazing EP and this song is honestly one of Isis’ very finest; up there with the likes of ‘Altered Course’ in terms of scope and impact.
Mosquito Control is an excellent first volley from an amazing band. They’d make more innovative music down the road but the purity of vision and the near-perfect execution of it on display here is something to behold. Even the lyrics are a cut above most bands, with the band’s visions of mosquito swarms alluding to human societies and how they can be controlled and crushed. This EP is not something to be passed up on – it’s essential for any fan of Isis to see where they come from artistically and any fan of sludge metal or hardcore.