Compared to their previous albums’ artwork, the soft pastels on the cover of ISON’s Inner — Space might seem a bit misleading at first. But make no mistake: the cosmic metal duo’s debut full-length is still as space-minded as those other releases, as Daniel Änghede and Heike Langhans evoke the universe’s vastness with a spell-binding blend of metal, shoegaze, goth, ambient, and electronica.
You won’t hear any blast beats or demonic grunts and howls in these eight songs — the closest they come to any of that are the distant screams of Alcest’s Neige on “Radiance” — but there’s nothing about Inner — Space that isn’t as heavy as a neutron star, or as dense and inescapable as a black hole’s singularity. (Forgive me; I’ll try to keep the astronomical metaphors to a minimum from here on out.)
Inner — Space isn’t vicarious or gimmicky listening for thrill-seekers, as you might assume given my earlier “cosmic metal” tag. Rather, ISON composes slow, majestic, grandiose — and, dare I say, romantic — music for contemplating the cosmic voids and spheres, and considering that most of the album’s songs pass the seven-minute mark, the Swedish duo gives you plenty of time for such mind-expanding activity.
Here’s what I imagine to be the ideal listening environment for Inner — Space: a dark field in the middle of nowhere, the album turned up loud on headphones, and you lying on your back in the grass to watch the Milky Way and countless other galaxies spiral overhead (no chemicals required or necessary). The title track even finds Langhans imploring listeners to “look up at the sky and tell me you don’t feel a thing/I won’t believe you’d take this all for granted,” her sad, angelic voice surrounded by slow-burning guitars and towering drums.
And to be honest, that’s also how I like to imagine Änghede and Langhans composed these songs, the duo writing them after long periods of star-gazing and contemplating their minuscule existence in the grand scheme of things. But for all of its ponderous and weighty lyrics and sonics, ISON’s music isn’t just about feeling nihilistic and cast adrift in the cosmos. As I wrote in my review of 2015’s excellent Cosmic Drone EP, “it is beneficial to have our perspectives re-adjusted and broadened. ISON just happens to do so with some gloomily beautiful, evocative music that conveys both the sublime beauty of the spheres as well as the crushing alienness of the interstellar expanse.”
Indeed, the glorious climax of “Equals,” the celestial melancholy of “Radiance,” “ISAE“ ‘s gently unfolding atmospherics… all of these — and the rest of Inner — Space’s songs, for that matter — are invitations to contemplate the grand, extravagant universe surrounding us, with ISON’s expansive music being the portal. Other bands want to make you dance, wax nostalgic, fall in love, or rise in protest. ISON avoids such mundane motives. They want you to feel nothing less than a sense of awe, which is precisely what they accomplish with Inner — Space.