Has heavy metal cut its hair and traded its Gibson SG for a laptop ? You might be forgiven for thinking so after seeing a trio of Hydrahead bands perform.

Isis have been exploring the boundaries of heavy music for several years, blending the influence of post rock and ambient music with progressive, heavy metal and hardcore. Headed by Hydrahead label founder Aaron Turner, the band set off on a North American tour along with Zozobra - a new outfit with ties to another Turner project, Old Man Gloom - and Jesu, the latest musical outlet from Justin Broadrick.

Opening act Zozobra features members of Old Man Gloom Caleb Scofield and Santos Montana (both outfits take their name from a giant marionette burned by the Santa Fe Kiwanis Club to kick off their annual three-day fundraiser) rounded out for touring purposes by two guitarists from another Hydrahead act, Clouds.

Core member Scofield is also a veteran of alternative metal act Cave-In. Scofield began the show with a slow, mournful solo turn on guitar, crooning over a doom metal chord progression before switching to bass and getting the other three members of the band on stage. Where Jesu and Isis dedicated some attention to mood and ambience, Zozobra paid closer attention to the traditional heavy metal virtues of volume and riffage. Their set would appeal to fans of bands like High on Fire and garnered enthusiastic applause from the audience (several of whom could be seen walking around with copies of Zozobra’s vinyl and T-shirts post-show).

Jesu’s set was far more divisive.

While the headliners have plainly absorbed the sound of Broadrick’s work in Godflesh, Broadrick has moved on. While he has stuck with the stripped down lyrics of albums like 'Love and Hate", the music seems designed to attract comparisons with My Bloody Valentine. Broadrick sung tunes from ‘Conqueror’ and ‘Silver’ in a dreamy lilt akin to Bilinda Butcher’s while punching out shimmering chords. The trio’s performance was capable (even with a ringer on the drum stool) but there was perceptible grumbling from the metalheads over the relatively poppy sound.

Isis’s set had more of the sonic pummeling they were presumably hoping for, leavened with the slower, monolithic tones and electronics that typify the band’s latest musical permutation. During the more hardcore passages Turner barked into his microphone (at one point leaving a foot-long tendril of drool decorating it) while the band charged along behind him; during (relatively) quiet moments guitarist Bryant Meyer switched to keyboards and laptop to provide the ambient backdrop.

The lighting operator matched the mood of the music with swathes of oceanic green and blue, occasionally bathing the stage in so much red the contrast between the performers and the background was rendered almost nonexistent. The audience seemed keen, though there was none of the moshing and horns-throwing seen at regular metal shows, and little in the way of what one might call headbanging, barring a few diehards – just a general nodding as the crowd floating along on top of the crushing waves of sound.

An entertaining evening, but not one to get the adrenalin flowing.

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Commenting On: Barrymore's, Ottawa, 19/3/2007 - Isis, Jesu and Zozobra

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