Isis – Wavering Radiant

I’ll be the first to admit that our list had quite a few key omissions, but none were bigger than this one; Isis’s Wavering Radiant. I mean, only 2 of us had heard Zu’s masterpiece, only 1 of us were behind Kylesa, and a whole lot more suffered thanks to basic disparities around the office. However, Wavering Radiant deserves better. This is an excellent album and one of the best put out by a band whose catalogue has nary a weak release, with great EP’s and all-around masterpieces like Oceanic and Panopitcon for albums. Everyone got a bit worried when In the Absence of Truth was only really good, but Wavering Radiant is truly a wonderful follow-up to both their earlier albums; it’s a true defining statement by Isis telling the world that they’re still here and they’re still one of the best Metal outfits on the planet.

We all know of this genre known as Post-metal, and whether or not you think it even actually exists (along with the use of “indie” as a genre or “pop” as a genre), Isis are the band that had critics coin the term. Their evolving structure belongs strictly to Progressive Metal, while their repetition puts them squarely in the realm of Sludge, a genre which basically means they sound kind of like Neurosis, but none of these seem to really do them any justice. Much like their Post-metal companions Intronaut, Isis refuse to be consistent or pin-holed into any one anything. Remember, these guys played at the Museum of Contemporary Art one day and toured with the likes of Tool the next. They’re a great big bag of contradictions.

However, all of this seems secondary compared to the sound they’ve pioneered for the better part of a decade now. The wandering, repeating structures and murky atmosphere giving way to thick waves of punishment, the shoegaze ambiance, all of these things remain intact on Wavering Radiant, but for once, it seems they’ve proved they can do something that isn’t simply cribbing from Oceanic. The themes lie in the lofty reaches of the atmosphere, but this is by no means to call it spacey; it’s all about the astral plane, with songs like “Hall of the Dead” or “Ghost Key” giving ample indications that Isis have truly taken their namesake to heart. They no longer exist on this plane, but rather as ambassadors of a higher place.

These weighty themes give this album a sense of dread and hard-hitting mythology unlike anything they’ve put out. It’s much more akin to their debut Celestial, with much more crunching riffs and the always stellar drumming Aaron Harris guiding the songs as strongly as ever. Much more emphasis has been put on the ambient sounds thanks to keyboardist Bryant Clifford Meyner, who sounds like the real front-man for this album. Whether it’s the church organs in “Stone to Wake A Serpent” or fuzz and buzz of the opening to “Wavering Radiant” this album has much more of an emphasis on electronics like never before.

However, this is by no means a Radiohead-esque transformation, but rather a new background for the crushing guitars and always strong bass to work in front of. The elements are all here and in full-force to work an album that sounds familiar but new all at the same time; the dynamics and riffs sound idiosyncratically Isis, but the spacial ambiance are a far cry from the crushing weight from the album’s water-logged companions. The bottom-line is that these guys have never sounded more self-assured and full, and they’ve put out a truly worthy follow-up to their already iconic discography. We may have forgotten it back in 2009, but make no mistake about it, this is Isis’s 10 year shout to the world that they still have everything that made them so arresting and essential a decade ago, maybe even more so.

Score: A-

by Trevor “Age ain’t nothing but a number” Johnson

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