Review Summary: Wow...
To proclaim an album to be your 'favorite of all-time,' it would need to possess qualities that can stand the test of time. Among these qualities are unforgettable riffs and beats, memorable lyrics, and an overall mood and energy that cannot be replicated. In short, this 'favorite album of all-time' would need to be something special, something that can stand up to all others and rise above them.
Isis' 2004 mammoth Panopticon
was the album that, for a time, carried the title of my all-time favorite. Its punishing, crushing riffs and savage vocals consumed me, while its gentle and epic soundscapes filled me with a sense of utter hope and beauty. When I first heard that Isis, who have since become my favorite band, were working on new material, I was both excited and apprehensive. Panopticon
is, on a personal level at least, a hard act to follow. The new album would have to be beyond exceptional, as to surpass my feelings of Isis' previous effort.
Lo and behold, Halloween 2006 has brought forth In the Absence of Truth
. To say that it surpasses its predecessor is a gross understatement, bordering on insult. Every feeling experienced during a listen to Panopticon
is amplified times 1000 on this record. The song structures, the instrumentation, the lyrical themes, everything about this album is excellent, a complete dismantling of the previous album. Even the filler (yes, there is filler here) is superb, paradoxically. It is a testament to a band's talent and creativity when they can out-do themselves so drastically from one album to the next.
One must examine each individual track, entities unto themselves, to really understand In the Absence of Truth
Wrists of Kings
The album begins with the echoing of a guitar. A monstrous beat ensues, ushering in an underlying piano passage. Overtones of the guitar present themselves as the overall ensemble progresses to a crescendo as the piano and guitar struggle for position to the soundtrack of the unforgiving drums. Mini-explosions of piano chords give one the false sense that the whole group might give at any moment. Once the tipping point is reached, the cacophony dies and gives way to a faster beat and ambience in the background, the piano still going strong with the guitar in tow. Aaron Turner takes an unexpected route with his vocals, as they are considerably clean and melodic, complimenting the piece with perfect effect. The guitar and piano drive on as cymbals chime and crash in the background, allowing Aaron to deliver his lyrics once more. A rather sweeping, grand passage quickly escalates into an epic churning of guitar and keyboard ambience, drums to the point of utter insanity. Aaron's cries bring this imposing passage full circle, and augurs heavy riffing and the growling we have come to expect, and it is certainly welcome. One guitar distorts, the other overdrives as thundering madness ascends upon the listener until both converge in a finale, a wall of sound underneath of growled vocals that ends rather abruptly.
Not in Rivers, But in Drops
An interwoven savagery of drums and bass introduce the listener to the next song. A steady guitar line welcomes Aaron's chants as an overdriven guitar is brought into the picture. Some more of the subtle chanting presents a perpetual riffing on the part of the guitar. A wonderful, solo bass passage acts merely as the prologue to a beat-driven portion of the song, complete with effect-laden lead. Chords progressively become more distorted as Aaron returns for a brief period. A soaring distortion of sound entices the listener as the lead line returns to allow Aaron’s barbaric singing. A driving part brings a reprise of the introduction and a beautiful lead line. Vocals return as the lead cries ever so sweetly under the archaic chaos. A stirring, muted guitar becomes intertwined with the lead line and bass as the drums go mad with rage. Insane, muddled guitar greet rumbling lyrics and pounding drums. The stirring portion visits again, just as the bass gains prominence, with it stunning synth and cymbals. A final cry from the bass brings this track to close.
Menacing chords and a steady drum beat provide the introduction to the third track. Aaron's melodic singing makes a comeback, and is an instrument unto itself. Here and there a double-bass portion can be heard, adding a bit of bite to the mood. The collective becomes a bit louder as the lyrics continue. It all quiets down for a moment, but accelerates as Aaron proclaims "She was his queen/she is a queen." An incredible display of guitar aggression is unleashed, becoming even heavier, enough so to sustain primitive growls by Aaron. It all fades away, until being brought back with a tandem guitar lead and frantic drums. Pure emotion and passion is conveyed at this point. The whole mess slows down the provide a base for the synth to shine, and shine it does. A star on a clear summer eve, the keyboards waltz with the guitar as it becomes ever so heavy and crushing. However, some melodic lead can still be deciphered. A palm-muted foreshadow brings upon the listener the clash of roaring rhythm and dissonant, hidden lead. It runs its course, and with the final whine of the lead, it fades away, yet refuses to be forgotten.
Over Root and Thorn
"Dulcinea" fades into a rambling, dissonant synth, both foreboding and warm. A welcome respite from the intensity of the previous tracks, the line continues, varying in volume and dynamics. Each swell and collapse brings about a new spike of calm excitement. A gentle beat, along with docile guitar lines, comes out of nowhere. Rolling bass syncs with the rhythm guitar, as the bridge between the passages becomes ever so pronounced. Once again, the entire group becomes more clearly heard, never losing pace. And then, a punishing riff and a repetitive lead line, together with the reverberating tom to bring about Aaron’s powerful voice among ever-shifting guitar lines. The keyboards make an appearance just as the entire scene turns to utter Hell. The heaviest guitar imaginable coupled with ungodly screams from Aaron Turner create a merciless brood of energy. This gradually fades, but a deep bass riff and a crashing beat make for an uneasy feeling. This continues for a time, as intense, fuzzy guitar end the track, the only sound heard a fading, sobering ambience.
A shimmering bombast of guitar and drums emerges from the previous track. The build-up here is something that is truly special. Aaron's singing is nothing short of haunting. A break ensues where the background guitar and the drums provide a canvas for the artistry of the lead line. A flowing portion arises, followed by one of the most epic passages of music I've ever experienced. The beat cascades as Aaron's performance, while only for a few moments, is greater than all he's ever done. A moment so pure and beautiful, so utterly indescribable. The softer passage returns, and so too does the soaring vocals and monstrous beat. Sparse lead segues into a splashy, layered movement, where the vocals make a small comeback, the bridge to strikingly guitar and complimenting keyboard, producing the feeling of standing before something unfathomably greater than yourself. A layered, heavy part comes after, and just as the previous portion of the song fulfills the soul, this one dismantles it to another breathtaking vocal segment. A raspy contribution from Aaron compliments perfectly the heavy guitar, both of which quickly give way to the sound of a subdued, prophetic conversation, barely audible.
All Out of Time, All Into Space
The voice from "1000 Shards" give way to echoing ambience and a rattling of some sort. A distant rambling is coherent for portions at a time, but instead die out, leaving shrieking synth to dominate the piece. A sound not unlike rushing water is heard, with more of the rattling behind it. All of a sudden, a great rumbling punches through the muddled keyboards and destroys the ensemble, fading into a higher pitch to end the track.
The listener isn't given an opportunity to brace themselves as they are immediately crushed by guitar and, oddly, classical piano. The piano keeps a steady progression as Aaron's subdued singing appears amid a fuzz of guitar. Growling and that haunting into return as this cycle repeats again, yet Aaron sings rather beautifully as he is overwhelmed by the wall of guitar. Bass suddenly takes the forefront, whilst keyboard notes and an ever-climbing tom-tom beat soldier on. Mellow guitar chords are strummed as the entire atmosphere gets a little more unsettling, although breathtaking at the same time. Cymbals begin to enter the picture to accompany the rest of the band. The keyboard lead is matched by a lead guitar, and to top it off Aaron interjects with a cry, as if to cement the mood. The structure falls apart via epic guitar and thundering drums, lead guitar blazing all over the place. A breakdown of sorts appears, progressively getting heavier and more menacing with each passing second. Most evil growls fill the picture, and with a final distorted scream of fading guitar, the track ends. Bittersweet it is so, for the tracks ends not with devastating chords, but with somber ambience.
Firdous E Bareen
A change of pace from the previous endeavor, wild, muted percussion surround the listener, an unusual introduction. Random interjections of ambience interrupt the groove, and never seem to subside, just fade in and out as the percussion gets louder. A new beat arrives, complete with gentle guitar. The mood is tribal, yet civilized. The overall assembly lulls one into a daze. The new beat drops out, ushering in striking acoustic guitar, a cry to shadows. A reprisal of the dueling beats emerges, more savage and dark. A deep, deep bass riff snarls in the background, subdued only by the gentle chords of the guitar. The mix is highly odd, pulsating and primitive, a quiet giant prepared to destroy. The listener feels the tension, that it could snap at any moment. Nay, it gets gentler and gentler. The beats all but disappear, leaving stunning, sparse ambience to console the listener. It is as if a journey of treachery is over, and another is to begin.
Garden of Light
A primeval drum beat amid layers of guitar bring a tear to the eye. Ever so sweetly another guitar becomes known, its presence longing to hold on. It, too, attains a progression, and at this point any fear and dismay are lost and dead. The chords turn savage, yet the mood never changes. Aaron’s best vocal portion conforms perfectly to the heavy churn. The beat brings about the most stunning, grand, emotional guitar passage that the band have ever created. It never gives, never ceases to amaze, even upon repeated listens. Aaron's growls and a heavier guitar portion augur a steady, layered progression, with the second guitar not far behind. Another heavy passage rears its head, and this one is amazing. Passionate growls abound as the climbing guitar riff continues. The bass in this portion superbly brings in around full circle. All calms down, leaving only the drums. Suddenly, a guitar sounds out, and again....they are the sign of what is to come. Achingly beautiful, that is what the rest of the song is. Not "what can be described as," IS
. A constant, unyielding climb of guitar chords, coupled with intense bass and mimic piano. The louder it becomes, the more gorgeous it becomes. The listener will gape in unworthiness at this passage, for it is a wonderful amalgam of brutality and magnificence. It ends as it should, its ungodly power intact in a final bombast of life, fading into oblivion as all things must.
When all is said and done regarding In the Absence of Truth
one simple fact remains: this is the band's crowning achievement, a true demonstration of its incredible talent. Every player, from Jeff Caxide's bass to Aaron Turner's voice and guitar, has improved thousand-fold from Panopticon
, an album I still consider to be perfect in every sense. I refuse to find fault in this album, for there is none, for every second of it exudes wonder.