On June 23, 2010, after 13 years together, Los Angeles post-metal band Isis performed their final show at Montreal's Club Soda.
The influential quintet played an instrumental role in shifting the dynamic of metal toward more epic, atmospheric and other decidedly non-metal textures while retaining the kind of heaviness that can only be found in metal music. Having produced five studio albums, the five musicians reached a comfortable stopping point, eager to close the book on the band before pushing "past the point of a dignified death," as they wrote in a goodbye blog post in 2010.
Isis vocalist Aaron Turner continued to work with several other bands, including Jodis, Mammifer and Old Man Gloom, and closed the doors to his label, Hydra Head Records. And guitarist Michael Gallagher focused on his solo project, MGR. But the remaining three musicians—drummer Aaron Harris, bassist Jeff Caxide and guitarist Cliff Meyer—picked up where they left off and started a new project, Palms, which is rounded out by Deftones vocalist Chino Moreno.
In a phone conversation from his home in Los Angeles, Harris tells CityBeat that the new project began awkwardly.
"In terms of writing the music and starting a new band, it was a little shaky at first," he says. "I mean, I think it was a little weird for me, having three of the five members of Isis getting together and trying to figure out what we wanted to do, and where we were heading, and not having the other two guys there.
"We started the band in Isis' rehearsal space," he continues, "and it didn't feel weird to be playing together; it just felt awkward to be in that space and starting something new. So, we actually moved to another rehearsal space, which was a really good move. We didn't realize it at the time, but we needed a space where we could feel like it was something new, and it was a fresh start."
In 2011, the trio began working on new material, though without any specific musical direction in mind. Some of the atmospheric elements of their old band were likely to make their way into the mix, but Harris says that nothing was finalized until Moreno joined the group; having a collaborator outside of Isis was key to finding the soul of the band.
"We felt that it was important to have an outside perspective, because we were concerned that it was going to sound a little too like Isis," Harris says. "We knew that we didn't want to be an Isis-lite or an Isis cover band. We wanted to be something different.
"Even though we never really talked about it, we were all on the same page and wanted to explore similar territory," he continues.
The sound of Palms' self-titled debut album, released June 25 via Ipecac Records, can be traced back to musical elements of past albums by both Isis and The Deftones, but it's also considerably different from either band's work on the whole. For starters, it's not all that heavy. Moreno almost never abandons his melodic singing style for an aggressive scream, and when the band turns up the distortion, the sonic result is more in line with shoegaze or post-rock. The track "Shortwave Radio," for instance, slowly builds to a thunderous climax, yet its heaviest moments are also the most accessible and melodic. And the nine-minute "Antarctic Handshake" is much more serene and dreamlike, its gorgeous shimmer of guitars more likely to have been plucked from a Slowdive album than that of any band to have graced the cover of Decibel magazine.
There are loud, crushing moments on Palms' debut, but it's the more graceful passages that stand out. It certainly doesn't sound like a metal album, and Harris couldn't agree more.
Metal is a "weird term," Harris says. "Even in Isis, we were called a metal band, and metal is just one of those words that—maybe I'm old school—but metal, to me, brings up visions of bands that I don't really feel are relevant to what we're doing.
"If we met on the street, and I told you I was in a metal band, you might expect it to sound a certain way, which really isn't what Palms sound like."
Harris says the band already has ideas for the next album, in cluding having Moreno provide guitar tracks, as well as vocals. But one thing that's not in the cards for Palms is falling into the habit of relying on familiar sounds.
"If you heard that we were Deftones plus Isis,' you sort of envision what that would sound like—and I'd probably like to hear that," Harris says. "But it also seems a little too cliché and predictable. You already know what it would sound like.
"We tried to make it sound unique."
Palms plays with Crypts and Sleep Lady at Belly Up on Wednesday, July 10.