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Thursday, April 16, 2009

CD Review: Isis - Wavering Radiant

Isis - Wavering Radiant
2009 Ipecac
Ray Van Horn, Jr.



It's hard for me not to discuss Isis without bringing a personal slant into things. Simply put, of any band in this generation or one having worked its way into this scene's good graces, Isis has become my undeniable rock. Opeth, Mastodon and Lamb of God being some of the absolute best bands of this period in metal, I tout those groups' praises with due reverence, but I've come to grow a chemical dependence upon Isis to the point only my child can make the storm clouds of my life vanish faster.

The thing with Isis is their escapist brand of art metal is a conjecture filled with beauty and grandiosity and yet on the turn of a dime they can drop the floor on you and plunge you into a cumbersome tar pit of sonic din. There really is no experience like Isis (even if Pelican is the closest runner-up) to the point any new album--at least for my purposes--is going to be digested with the utmost private part of my ear, brain and heart.

If you have the opportunity to chat with frontman Aaron Turner (as I was fortunate enough to do a couple weeks ago), privacy to the point of near-confidentiality even in a public exhibition of his group's music is one of the fundamental aspects to what makes Turner and Isis tick. You will almost never get Turner to discuss fully what muse motivates his group's albums, and that's to the good, because any true artist leaves enough ambiguity for the audience to decide what the subject matter is about. Turner will blatantly state it is a simple matter of cheating to lay all of your cards on the table.

Which leads us from 2006's gut-wrenching In the Absence of Truth (this writer's respective album of the year pick) to their latest wondrous soundscape, Wavering Radiant.

Having won a Revolver magazine Golden Gods Award this year for Best Underground Group, Isis has worked itself slowly to this point which finds the group less focused on animalistic tone destruction ala their earlier works such as Celestial, The Red Sea and their calamitous masterpiece Oceanic. Following their bridge-crossing experimentations on Panopticon, Isis found a wholesome balance of aggression and elegance on In the Absence of Truth.

The biggest acceleration with Wavering Radiant is its profound cleanness. For the second album in a row, Isis has reduced the feedback miasma pounding their creative flow, yet Wavering Radiant is the recipient of twittering guitars from Turner, Michael Gallagher and Clifford Meyer which captures a newer cadence atop their traditionally fuzz-laced rhythms. Grounded with the always-methodic bass of Jeff Caxide, Isis is perhaps the most psychedelic they've ever been on this album, using the hypnotic, serpentine note lines slithering through "Hand of the Host" as an example.

That's not to say Isis has lost its boom. Roaring out the gate with vociferous yelling and low-end crunch on "Hall of the Dead," Wavering Radiant establishes itself with nods back to Celestial and Panopticon before weaving a customary thread of exploration in search of the composition's climax, which is raised upon full with fugue organs assisting Isis' thunderous finale.

As with In the Absence of Truth, Wavering Radiant is one of the most investigative efforts Isis has completed in its lengthy career. As Aaron Turner has stated numerous times, Isis tries hard not to replicate themselves from album-to-album, and the biggest evidence of that on Wavering Radiant comes in various measures such as the Kyoto guitar whispers leading the first number of bars on "Ghost Key" or the tear-inducing, gorgeous high-note swoons on "20 Minutes/40 Years."

It also manifests on the briefly mainstream rock-ish "Stone to Wake a Serpent," which would've had a fighting chance (assuming Isis was interested in cracking through) had the first minute not been concentrated with Turner's enraged woofing and the group's accentuated tripiness. However, we all know Turner's vocal dynamics are part of the ride and Isis itself is all about the journey. Try telling these guys to trim down for a radio edit. As if! The percussive slaps filling the gaps between the translucent verses on "Stone to Wake a Serpent" would likely suffer in such loss, which in their own way usher in the richer tones of the remainder of the constantly building track.

Though In the Absence of Truth is a more emotional listening experience, Wavering Radiant is still another majestic performance from this group in which the end reason of each song is long-realized and blessedly so. Isis is a band you spend consumptive amounts of time with, or you go elsewhere if you're in a hurry. With all of the band members in proximity of each other for the recording of Wavering Radiant (versus the members dialing in their parts from both coasts the last time around), Isis now sounds the most organic they ever have. All the better with which to sink into your couch and soak them up.

Simply stated, Isis is the indisputable leaders of their style and with the recruitment of Tool's Adam Jones for random touches on three of Wavering Radiant's songs, the fullest realization of Isis' potential is now at hand.

Rating: ****1/2

5 comments:

Just another critic said...

I think Isis did a really good job combining efforts of In the Absence of Truth and more repetitive elements from Celestial. Overall, I'm glad they incorporated both of these elements in a tasteful manner.

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