I conspired to provide material support to an independent record store

At least I didn’t get arrested is a helluva way to begin a story, but then I never expected the FBI to question me about my online record shopping, viewing it as cover for potentially “Conspiring to Provide Material Support” to an international terrorist organization. “We need some information from you,” the email said. “We’ve also temporarily limited certain features in your PayPal account.

“PayPal’s Compliance Department has reviewed your account and identified activity that we have a couple questions about. To resolve the compliance inquiry in a timely fashion, PayPal is requesting that you provide the following information:

On March 27, 2023, you sent a payment for the amount of $66 for ‘@13stoploss IG ISIS (the band).’ Please provide the following information:

• An explanation of the reference to ‘ISIS’

• The purpose of this payment, including a complete and detailed explanation of what is intended to be paid for.”

That’s when I wrote my day-job boss, on my team’s internal Slack channel. “So, uhhh, in case the FBI comes asking my friends or checking my social media to see if I’ve been radicalized or anything, I would like to point out that seminal post-metal band @isisthebandofficial (‘ISIS’) added the parenthetical ‘the band’ to all its legacy social media accounts, even though the band broke up in 2010. The PayPal payment I sent to a record shop @permanentrecordsla was flagged and my account paused over an original first pressing of ‘ISIS (the band)’s’ groundbreaking Oceanic record, as in wax, and that it is not monetary support for the terrorist group of the same name.”

“That’s almost funny,” the boss replied. “Almost.”

Isis the band preceded ISIS the terrorist organization. Isis the goddess preceded both. One of the nine descendants of the creator, Ra, she was known, among other things, as the goddess of magic and wisdom, provider of rain and protector of ships at sea, both wife and sister of Osiris. Her influence later spread throughout the Greek and Roman traditions.

In Isis and Osiris: Demonology vs. Henotheism?, Valentino Gasparini wrote that Isis “governs the cosmos, yet she also relieves people of their comparatively trivial misfortunes, and her influence extends into the realm of death.” In Great Goddesses of Egypt, Barbara Lesko wrote that Isis had the power to predict or influence future events; she was ruler of fate and destiny. In Napoleon’s Sorcerers: The Sophisians, Darius Spieth wrote that “in the dechristianization of France during the French Revolution,” Isis “served as … a symbol that could represent nature, modern scientific wisdom, and a link to the pre-Christian past.”

Isis the band formed in Boston in 1997. Its second release, Oceanic, fused “post-rock” (Mogwai, Sigur Rós, Explosions in the Sky, Godspeed You! Black Emperor) with the lengthier song structures, style, and ambience explored by sludgier metal bands like Godflesh and Neurosis. Though it wasn’t the first stylistically, Oceanic is often credited with the formation of the “post-metal” genre.

“Heavy, atmospheric, droning, post-epic, post-metal, shoegazer blah blah blah,” lead guitarist and vocalist Aaron Turner told Decibel magazine. He told Metal Maniacs in 2006, “I’m almost afraid of perpetuating a new tag.” Later, in The New York Times, he relented, admitting that perhaps the band’s sound is a form of “thinking man’s metal”—more about the “intellectual elements behind the music, as opposed to exclusively aural ones.”

Oceanic is indeed a complex, sophisticated work. Many of the album’s instrumental and interlude sections flow like water. If you didn’t gather from the title, Oceanic is, thematically, a modern and dysfunctional Isis-the-goddess–adjacent myth story, a concept album whose lyrics drift with emotional detachment, incest, and suicide. It follows the story of a man who finds attachment with a woman who is simultaneously engaged in a long-term relationship with her brother. Upon discovery, this relationship drives the protagonist into an emotional coma until, as Gasparini suggested—and as the album liner’s story confirms in the song “From Sinking”—he seeks relief from his “trivial misfortune” and:

Like liquid was the sadness, until into the light he stepped
In this truth he knew himself to be.
From sinking sands he stepped into light’s embrace.

You wouldn’t know the story without a copy of the lyrics; those grunting vocals are near-impossible to decipher. Presumably that’s the intent. It’s the music that buoys the listener, bobbing with the tide like little waves splashing and sprinkling between tsunamic but hummable riffs. Like the best tragedies, it’s too pretty to ignore.

In 2017, Rolling Stone ranked it the #72 greatest metal album of all time.

I’d have written all this to PayPal, but the response form limited me to 1000 characters. So instead I just explained that I had merely purchased a vinyl record from an independent record store online—that Isis (the band) disbanded in 2010, three years before the rise of the terrorist organization of the same name. I linked to Wikipedia’s entry for “Name Changes Due to the Islamic State” and mentioned how it tracks software, business, organization, and entertainment entities that modified their names, “Isis (the band)” included (footnote 1).

Funny/not funny aside: Panopticon, Isis the band’s 2004 follow-up to Oceanic, uses allegory to focus “on the proliferation of surveillance technologies throughout modern society and the government’s role in that spread.” (footnote 2)

It took a day, but my PayPal account was restored, the payment processed, the record shipped, and the FBI never came calling.

Footnote 1: See en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Name_changes_due_to_the_ Islamic_State.

Footnote 2: See wikipedia.org/wiki/Panopticon_(album).

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