Isis
Wavering Radiant


4.0
excellent

Review

by Andrew H. EMERITUS
April 28th, 2009 | 1009 replies


Release Date: 2009 | Tracklist

Review Summary: If this record proves anything, it's that Isis are a fully-functioning organism

To me, the last Isis record In the Absence of Truth (2006) represented the pinnacle of everything that the post/sludge/progressive/whatever-metal band were capable of at the time of its release. Allmusic.com writer John Serba said of the band's song “Weight”, “[it] doesn't necessarily move as much as it evolves toward its goal”, and while he was only describing a single song in the band's catalogue, I felt as if the description applied to the artistic direction of the band as a whole. I started listening to the band sometime in between Oceanic (2002) and Panopticon (2004) and in 2006 I felt about In the Absence of Truth the same way that I felt about Panopticon on its release; that it represented the next step in the direction of the goal that Isis were evolving towards. And not only that, it was just a better record. The songs were more structurally complex than ever before, the tones and textures far more interesting and sophisticated, the album flowed better and the lyrics were conceptually engaging (if less immediate) and at least as good as anything else they'd done before.

Apparently no one agreed.

Of course I'm exaggerating, but opinions on In the Absence of Truth from critics and fans alike were certainly mixed. The major complaint about the record seemed to be that for various reasons, it was boring; a complaint I honestly don't know how to respond to. Aside from the above praises about the record itself, my understanding of Isis was of them as (if not an entity) a democratic and evolving organism; each member unique and indispensable, absolutely crucial to both the process and the product. Which isn't to say that disliking newer Isis material is rooted in ignorance, just that each record is merely one part of a process and understanding that provides a richer experience of the band.

Wavering Radiant continues in the direction that Isis have been travelling since their inception, with an increasing prominence of melody and a greater focus on placid sections to balance out their signature crushing heaviness. The dynamic and tonal embellishments on themes that brought songs like “Dulcinea” and “Firdous E Bareen” to epic conclusions have been replaced with a less predictable approach to songwriting. Crushingly heavy parts drop in and out without warning and songs seem not to travel towards climaxes as to shift between ideas suddenly or subtly where appropriate. Sonically, the record also reproduces the watery feel best exemplified on In the Absence of Truth, which was due to the increased use of modulation effects, particularly with bassist Jeff Caxide. While In the Absence of Truth saw Caxide using modulation effects as a means to creating a unique timbre for particular moments in songs like “Not In Rivers But In Drops” or “1000 Shards”, he uses them much more readily on Wavering Radiant. In fact, the majority of the clean sections in every one of the album's seven tracks feature his singular, heavily modulated tone, which is key in giving the album its distinctive feel.

Perhaps one of the reasons why Isis are such an effective band in both a purely musical sense and a conceptual one is that the way the instruments sound is as crucial as the notes they are playing. Caxide's tone is a perfect example, but the same principle applies for each and every member. Waving Radiant has each musician expanding his palette considerably. Multi-instrumentalist Bryant Clifford Meyer does this most impressively with his keyboard parts, making use of instruments such as the Fender Rhodes (electric piano) and vintage Hammond organs as well as his usual synthesisers. Rather than giving the record a 70s vibe as might be expected, Meyer's instrumentation lends itself to the dark sense of mystery that was especially present on In the Absence of Truth (see “Firdous E Bareen”). Likewise with drummer Aaron Harris. One of the biggest complaints about the band's last record was the tom-heavy nature of the drumming, which some felt was redundant. Harris appears to have responded accordingly by varying his beats far more; shifting between simple and complex patterns at the drop of a hat with usual tightness and sheer power.

The only instrument that offers little to distinguish itself from previous releases is the voice. Aaron Turner has never been the most technically impressive vocalist, but the sheer intensity of his dry, raspy growl is always able to make up for that. Wavering Radiant's increased emphasis on melody has also increased the presence of his clean vocals and perhaps it's just the production, but they sound more powerful and in-sync with the music than ever before. That said, Isis as a collective sound more together than they ever have. Riffs, patterns and melodies seem more intertwined and the interplay between the guitarists and Caxide's bass counter-melodies is more natural and intricate than ever before. It's not that they sound loose, just that the parts gel together rather than feeling like a construct of individual ideas. The basis of this seems to be Harris' increased presence; though the guitars, bass and keyboards play off each other considerably, it all comes back to the fact that everyone is playing off Harris and following his lead dynamically. His sense of moment is perfect; knowing exactly when and where to jump in or cut back, and just how much.

The scene that Isis have been instrumental in building is in an interesting place. With the most prominent groups in the genre (Rosetta, Jesu, Pelican, etc) carving out their own niches, it's unlikely that Wavering Radiant will ever be as influential a record as Oceanic. Nonetheless, it's an important one for the genre and more significantly, it's an important one for Isis. With five incredible albums under their belt, the knowledge that they've been crucial in establishing an extremely prominent musical trend and no sign of slowing down or being unfaithful to their identity as a band, Isis can truly be considered one of the best and most important groups of the 2000s. Certainly within the metal genre, it's difficult to think of a group more consistent and influential.

To attempt to rank Wavering Radiant within the Isis discography is to miss this point. Fans of earlier releases will likely be disappointed but if this record proves anything, it's that Isis are a fully-functioning organism, slowly moving towards something not yet known by the listener and perhaps not even the band themselves.



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user ratings (1405)
Chart.
4
excellent
other reviews of this album
jacobybelgium (5)
Almost haunting in its beautiful complexity....

ZombicidalMan (4)
Isis create their most natural sound yet, but lose the strength from past works by doing so....

Matt081 (4.5)
With Wavering Radiant Isis leave the material world behind creating a mirror like distortion of real...

Keelan H. EMERITUS (4)
...


Comments:Add a Comment 
Thor
April 28th 2009


10200 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Pretty good review. I couldn't agree more with you when you said:

Perhaps one of the reasons why Isis are such an effective band in both a purely musical sense and a conceptual one is that the way the instruments sound is as crucial as the notes they are playing.


Meatplow
April 28th 2009


5524 Comments


I should get more from this group. I loved Panopticon.

Cesar
April 28th 2009


2732 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Excellent album, I still like Panopticon more though.

gaslightanthem
April 28th 2009


5209 Comments


can't believe i still haven't heard this

Altmer
April 28th 2009


5652 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0 | Sound Off

mediocre

Metalstyles
Staff Reviewer
April 28th 2009


8371 Comments


this is another album that I have been meaning to check out for a while, but never have had the time. It is still in my "need to check out" list.

jingledeath
April 28th 2009


7104 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Great review, In the Absence of Truth didn't do much for me but this was excellent

Slimjim367
April 28th 2009


512 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0 | Sound Off

To attempt to rank Wavering Radiant within the Isis discography is to miss this point.

finally somsone else agrees with me on this
i cant stand all the 'in the absence' hating
i loved it
and if you didnt i can understand that
it was much slower to develop, but each song was a gem once you 'got' it

panopticon will always be my favourite, but wavering is right next to it, thena gain so is in the absence
oceanic too
turns out since each reocrd varies so much, i rreally CANt compare them
great review man
great.

foreverendeared
April 28th 2009


14678 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

i love every album isis has done, The Mosquito Control EP and Panopticon are my two favorites.

StreetlightRock
Emeritus
April 28th 2009


3771 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Fantastic review dude.

Digging: Grouper - Ruins

Wizard
April 28th 2009


19502 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Apparently no one agreed.

Oh I agree.

Review made me eager to hear this when it's released in Canada.

Review was excellent and what I personally feel, one of the best reviews I've ever read about this band. You captured the essence of what this band is all about.


Digging: Godflesh - A World Lit Only By Fire

StrizzMatik
April 28th 2009


3204 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

Great review, incredibly average album.

Digging: Weezer - Everything Will Be Alright in the End

Waior
April 28th 2009


11454 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Fantastic review, love how you compared it to an organism the whole way through.

I have neglected this, but not for long

Lucid
Contributing Reviewer
April 28th 2009


7026 Comments


Album is passable but can get boring.

Kiran
Emeritus
April 28th 2009


6001 Comments


Love the review, you've convinced me to listen to this above the long list of albums I've been meaning to simply because you've gotten me so interested in what this actually sounds like. Never looked into this band before, despite the hype a few of their records received.

Mendigo
April 28th 2009


2299 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

excellent review, I truly love this album. tbh, I cannot tell which Isis album is my favorite, with the exception of Celestial (which was still ok) and the EPs (which I didn't enjoy that much) all of them are pretty much exactly on the same level of greatness.

Wizard
April 28th 2009


19502 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

despite the hype a few of their records received.

It ain't hype.

spoon_of_grimbo
April 28th 2009


2241 Comments


i also agree on your points about ITAoT - what made that record for me was that indescribably spooky atmosphere about the whole thing.

i pretty much agree with this review having given a few cursory listens to WR. once i have the CD and not a crap leak rip thing i'll give it a proper listen.

OllieS
April 28th 2009


2033 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

Great review; definitely gonna buy this. This band's bassist is amazing.

froghawk
April 28th 2009


134 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

I loved their last three records, but this is striking me as somewhat generic and lacking in progression at the moment. The first two songs are incredible, though.



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