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Isis - Wavering Radiant

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Artist: Isis

Album: Wavering Radiant

Label: Ipecac

Review date: Jul. 10, 2009

In the decade since Isis first arrived in recorded format with 1999’s The Red Sea, the six-piece has gone from ripoffs of Godflesh and Earth to idolized avatars of whatever post-metal means this week. Their noise is a careful balance between the headbanging riffage of their Boston hardcore roots and the celestial calm they’ve worked to uncover in Los Angeles over the years. As simple as that is on paper, few bands have been so successful at making these counterweights sound both natural and interesting over an EP, let alone a decade and five full-lengths.

Unwavering Radiant is their latest go at giving the trusty formula a tweak. If you’ve done any kind of reading around on this album, you’ll see that both fans and critics are into it because the band has left the sludgy hooks untouched while cleaning up the atmospheric passages. In short, it’s a friendlier version of 2006’s In the Absence of Truth, which was a portly and tedious affair on repeated spins. No such trouble here: Two tracks and ten minutes shorter, the flow of Unwavering Radiant is blissful indulgence rather than exhaustive endurance for the listener.

Even with the familiar song structures and Aaron Turner’s Jekyll and Hyde-like vocal switch from harmonious lead to gravel-throated roar and back again, the band sounds different primarily due to keyboardist Clifford Meyer. Opener “Hall of the Dead” has a church-like feel to it, and the keys in the bridges of “Stone to Wake a Serpent” mimic the title in their watery vibrato. The extra effects make Isis more approachable and, as some have pointed out, more accessible. It’s not a bad thing, but it does make the band less menacing. Turner’s taking it easy on the shouting with this album (not including “20 Minutes / 40 Years,” anyway), and though his singing is nothing to scoff at, the intimidation factor inherited from the “metal” gene of post-metal is largely gone.

So too is the narrative arc epitomized by 2004’s Foucault-inspired Panopticon. Though they clung to the idea of a plot for In the Absence of Truth, Isis has now abandoned Jeremy Bentham narratives and ambiguous quotations in the artwork and liner notes. In their place are paintings dominated by the color black that let the listener decide what exactly it means to “waver radiant.”

Wavering Radiant is strong enough on musical merit that decade-strong devotees deservedly ought to join new converts in welcoming the latest Isis album into the world. It may not reach the high watermarks of Oceanic or Panopticon, but Wavering Radiant is another satisfying addition that nudges their sound forward.

By Patrick Masterson

Other Reviews of Isis


Oceanic Remixes & Interpretations

In the Absence of Truth

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View all articles by Patrick Masterson

Find out more about Ipecac

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