Isis: Wavering Radiant

By , May 8 2009

Rating: 7.5 / Format: CD/LP / Label: Conspiracy

It takes a while to realise, but Wavering Radiant, the fifth full-length by post-metal doyens Isis, is pretty different to what’s come before from Aaron Turner and co. The last time this happened was 2002, when they transformed from brutal sludge metal to something altogether more delicate. Celestial to Oceanic was one of the more eye-opening musical metamorphoses of the decade, which meant the conservative follows-up, Panopticon and In the Absence of Truth, greatly disappointed. 

Nothing seemed to be going on with the last brace; the music gradually watered down until stagnant. But despite initial listens, Wavering Radiant brings the goods. Listening to it is an actual pleasure, rather than some grim rite of passage one must undergo in order to hold an opinion. The Isis sound, debuted proper on the 2002 album, is still present and correct, but there’s more subtle shifts in mood here, most interestingly when they take influence from outside (Tool’s Adam Jones plays on two songs). The basslines bounce and jolt with that familiar elasticity, but the seismic six-string shifts on songs like ‘Hand of the Host’ and ’20 Minutes/40 Years’ are the sort not heard from this band in years. It is no coincidence that these are highlights. Turner’s vocals are growing as well, sounding eerily like Steve Brodsky, from Isis’ peers Cave In. These journeys into melody are so successful (vocal harmonies, no less) that you wonder why Turner still bothers with the pseudo-death metal vocals at all. They add little to the music and must serve to turn off more potential fans than they attract.

A slow-burning success, Wavering Radiant should satisfy fans and those new to the band. But while subtle developments are all well and good, it would be nice to have one of these big name metal bands actually take a real chance with a new album. Modern metal needs a shift like Metallica’s ‘Black Album’, or Isis’ Oceanic, or Cave In’s Jupiter, again. Such a move might threaten the current culture of packed gigs and vinyl release insta-sellouts, but we know what to expect from everybody at this stage of the game. Let’s hope the impending sunnO)) album bucks this trend of professional predictability.

Robin Jahdi

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