Review Summary: Isis show themselves to be an ever-progressing band, and prove to expand their musical frontiers even more while still keeping their signature sound with this brilliantly-composed record.
Isis has almost become a staple band for fans of the post-metal genre. The 2002 album Oceanic itself has been named a classic, and 2004's Panopticon drew in even more fans. For some, two years between albums is a long time, but Isis fans' patient waiting has finally paid off with "In the Absence of Truth", an even more progressive and experimental album for the band.
So what is this record like, in comparison to previous ones? Isis has progressed with their sound from Panopticon as much as Panopticon did from Oceanic. It still retains Isis' signature sound - heavy, chugging guitars; beautiful, complex clean interludes; long and unorthodox song structures...However, listeners will notice a few subtle changes this time around. For instance, the different mix: Turner's vocals are much more in the foreground, and the bass is more upfront as well. One of the most bitter complaints I have heard about Isis in the past was that the music had the most boring drums ever. Drummer Aaron Harris got wind of these grievances and has vastly improved his style with faster and more complex drumming, even going so far as to acquire a double-bass pedal (good news entirely). Also, the influence of "supergroup" Red Sparowes has rubbed off on Isisâ€"after all, they share two members - and some of their softer passages are strongly reminiscent of "At the Soundless Dawn" (which, if you like "In the Absence of Truth", you ought to give a listen to). Similarly, another thing that turns people away from this band is the "harsh" vocal style. It seems to be an "either-you-like-it-or-you-hate-it" thing. There are still harsh vocals on this one (they probably won't ever go away) and they are further up in the mix, however we are treated to a lot more clean singing and the harsh vocals have been reduced somewhat. For me, this doesn't really make much difference (I think they fit the music perfectly) but hopefully more people will not be turned away from this record simply because of the vocals. Besides, Isis has a lot more to offer instead.
And now, for a runthrough. (A side note: The lyrics haven't been released yet, and I have no clue what most of them are, so I won't comment on them).
"Wrists of Kings", the opening track, almost sounds like something entirely left over from the Panopticon recording sessions. I wouldn't doubt that it is. However, it does showcase some excellent drumming in the beginning, followed by some familiar trancy passages and climaxing with a beautifully heavy riff. A decently strong song, but nothing too exciting. However, it does serve as a good intro, and a sort of "bridge" from Panopticon to the rest of the album. (4/5)
By the time "Not in Rivers, but in Drops" comes in, the listener will notice a very strong change in Isis' sound. It's a much faster song, with attention-grabbing drums and prominent bass the whole way through. It also features beautiful verse passages - with lots of chugging guitars that remind one of Isis' earliest work - intertwined through the whole song by more trancey bits with brilliantly-composed guitar riffs and some keyboards overtop. The ending trails off softly after a brilliant heavy climax. As it stands this song is pretty much the best on the record. (5/5)
"Dulcinea" is the one everyone had already heard, having been released online two months before release. It's not exactly "single" material, but it is quite the beautiful song. The initial buildup-verse-chorus pattern trails off into a long, long interlude (superb drumming here, no question), which in turn builds into an absolutely euphoric climax, which unfortunately isn't long enough. (4/5)
"Over Root and Thorn" is very slow coming in, with one of the longest buildups ever (it reminds me strongly of Tool's track "Lost Keys"), lasting over half the entire song. However this leads into a very nice-sounding major-key clean verse section, and a decent heavy leadout. It sounds quite evil at the end, which is an interesting contrast to the rest of the mostly-happy song. (3.5/5)
"1000 Shards" is almost entirely clean, interlude-esque passages, but they fit brilliantly alongside each other and remain complex and different most of the time. There are some pretty cool effects used on the vocals and bass here and there, making the song much more interesting to listen to. The clean vocals are used more in this song and fit perfectly with the musical style of droning guitars and crashing drums. Slowly the song begins to build about two-thirds of the way through, awashing the listener in sound before the huge climax at the end. (5/5)
"All out of Time, All into Space" is filler. Blah blah blah. Well, okay, so it's not bad filler, but I wouldn't want to listen to it outside the context of the album. (2/5)
After rinsing the listener's ears of the album's beginning, we move into "Holy Tears". Alternately heavy and soft at the beginning, then moving into a now-typical long interlude followed by a heavy climax. However, the song harbors a lot of excellent riffage, some keyboard action (which we've been sadly missing somewhat), and beautiful guitar passages during the interlude (again, Red Sparowes-esque) with some background vocals. The interlude also builds very well into the climax of the song, which itself is quite beautiful. (5/5)
"Firdous e Bareen" (no, it's not someone's name; if you want to know the context of the title, go look it up) is a very interesting track. It's the token instrumental and starts off with some synth jungle-drums or something. The song builds with eerie guitars and moves into some ethnic-instrument pieces (it sounds like there's a hammered dulcimer in there to me, but I'm not sure). It continues with more guitar and starts to sound a little more like Isis for the remainder of the song. Not a standout piece, really, but it is definitely unique. (4/5)
The last track, "Garden of Light", should sound a bit familiar. Yep, it's "Maritime": the beginning riff is completely taken from Oceanic's interlude piece, with a different time signature and different instrumentation. Soon, though, it becomes its own song. It's a faster one, like "Not in Rivers, but in Drops", and remains interesting throughout the whole piece, with very good drumming and clean and distorted guitars. More double bass and toms at the end punctuate the heavy, emotionally-charged climax, which is an absolutely perfect way to end the song and the album. (5/5)
In summary: A somewhat different album, with a lot of new elements to the music while retaining a lot of what listeners are used to, while improving much of their songwriting. Not quite as good as Panopticon or Oceanic, but it's almost there.
Pros: Much better drumming; more prominent basswork; amazing clean guitar riffs; much more clean vocals, which are mixed further up; more of a variety of music, so there's something for fans of both old and new Isis.
Cons: Some parts are slow getting into (e.g. "Over Root and Thorn"); "Wrists of Kings" sounds reused.
Recommended tracks: Not in Rivers, but in Drops; 1000 Shards; Holy Tears; Garden of Light
Final rating: 4.5/5. This album has the potential to one day perhaps become a classic, but right now it's being held back by a few small things. Otherwise, I highly recommend a listen to anyone - especially those who have not heard Isis before.