Release Date: Jun 25, 2013
Record label: Ipecac
When Isis’ rolling post-metal behemoth came to a halt they left a hole that has never really been filled. So when the news filtered through that three of Isis’ main players (Jeff Caxide, Aaron Harris and Bryant Clifford Meyer to be precise) had teamed up with Deftones front man Chino Moreno, it’s fair to say that a fair number of people got a little hot under the collar. The idea of what this collaboration might bring forth is almost more exciting than what Palms could ever hope to actually produce.
Much like a photo-hunt puzzle where two nearly identical objects are placed next to one another and the viewer has to spot the differences, Palms' self-titled debut finds the art-metal group providing listeners with an aural variation of the game. Made up of members of post-metal icons Isis and Deftones, the band make for an interesting puzzle for fans to comb over, sounding at times similar to and completely different than their other bands. Sure, Jeff Caxide's flowing, watery basslines can still be heard all over the albums, but here they're allowed a little more room to breathe.
Ten years ago, a collaboration like this would have implied something more manic or elephantine. Now, with Isis's final two efforts being a hair's breadth away from post-Tool mediocrity and Deftones treading water with palatable, yet predictable placeholder releases, the prospect of Chino Moreno fronting three fifths of the former group elicits a more tempered, cautious optimism. While straying very little from the decidedly grown-up, Palms' self-titled debut offers more than enough buttery atmosphere to satisfy fans of either project.
If the album really is dying, does the narrative still hold meaning? What if it’s completely interchangeable? Though far from a Kaiser Chiefs-esque Choose Your Own Adventure assembly, Palms’ debut appears unconcerned with differentiation, its six songs and three quarters of an hour often blending into one meandering yet fluid piece. It’s not apathy, rather a record strategically focused on being unfocused, content to create a haze to wander through. There is power in repetition and though Palms’ layered soundscapes do not lend themselves to conventional choruses or snappy hooks, the collective stands firm, even if you could arguably swap arrangements and vocal lines around from track to track and not disrupt proceedings.
Flash back a couple of years, and it seemed like Isis and Deftones were going to converge if they didn't collaborate first. On Isis' 2009 swan song Wavering Radiant, the Los Angeles band’s increasingly accessible and grandiose doom metal started to sound like blown-out Deftones instrumentals, whereas Deftones’ increasingly lush and knotty alt-metal could pass for compressed Isis. So Palms is a sensible pairing, a partnership between Deftones vocalist Chino Moreno and three members of Isis (drummer Aaron Harris, guitarist Cliff Meyer, and bassist Jeff Caxide) that promises a Postal Service-like mutual benefit: those responsible for the backing music get a tremendous profile boost, while the lead singer is granted a modicum of cred that wrongly escapes his main band, whose diverse and progressive catalog still gets stereotyped as caricatured teen angst.
You hate to see a band like Isis go. The Los Angeles-by-way-of-Boston quartet, who with releases like Oceanic, Panopticon, and the underrated Wavering Radiant established the canonical post-metal formula aped by countless instrumental metal bands today, had just hit a new career high with Radiant when its break-up was announced. Then, last year, Temporal, a posthumous collection of B-sides and rarities, was released; amongst other things, the two-disc set included unreleased gems like “Grey Divide”, a stark reminder that there was undoubtedly a lot of potential left in Isis.
Palms is a union of Deftones frontman Chino Moreno and ISIS core Bryant Clifford Meyer, Jeff Caxide, and Aaron Harris, and their debut album couldn’t have dropped at a more auspicious time for unorthodox metal. Arriving in the wake of game-changers like Baroness and Deafheaven – the latter a shoegaze-metal hybrid album that’s sitting surprisingly comfortably atop Metacritic’s 2013 LP list right now –Palms has haphazardly unearthed a massive audience. The members’ former bands don’t define Palms — and that’s a good thing.
It would be fair to say that Palms achieves the fabled definition of a ‘supergroup’. At face value, it’s a recipe of one-quarter Deftones, three-quarters Isis - two of the most groundbreaking acts in alternative metal in the last decade, if not longer. But dig deeper and the four members that comprise Palms have had their fingers in equally impressive pies: Bassist Jeff Caxide and guitarist Bryant Clifford Meyer can be found in Red Sparowes, drummer Aaron Harris played a role in Zozobra and Chino Moreno, of course, fronts Deftones and Crosses.