Sound: The tenebrous chasm of Isis has claimed many in its time, forming entire legions dedicated to the band's prowess both as a stalwart of the atmospheric sludge style and as a growing institution in the wider circle of progressive metal. Whilst undeniably innovative, I've always felt that the potential of this band has never really been met; interesting ideas being meandered away over the course of eight or nine minutes and brilliant songs failing to be supported through the duration of an album's journey'. There is something noticeably different about Wavering Radiant' from the very beginning. Even in the 16 seconds of feedback before Hall Of Dead' begins riffing it feels like the doom and gloom of the band's last three albums has been lifted, in its place a confident sound which seems to be have been given more impetus by its performer's enjoyment of the music than any kind of artistic or conceptual intent. It's taken me many, many listens through this album to reach a real conclusion, but it's been worth it because at the end of the day Wavering Radiant' is a compelling, lively and most importantly refreshing album.
You may be tempted to heed the cry of the fanboys, but the band's favouring of Joe Barresi over longtime producer Matt Bayles seems to have been the right decision; whilst Bayle's claustrophobic mix may well have been important to fans of the atmosphere from the likes of Oceanic' or Panopticon', these new songs have got plenty of breathing room and they benefit greatly from it. Historically, the award for instrumental excellence has always gone to bassist Jeff Caxide but this time around he is going to have to share it with electronics-fiddler Cliff Meyer, who has absolutely outdone himself on Wavering Radiant'. Caxide is still the band's chief provider of sonic depth and melodic interest, but the keyboard parts consistently provide little bits of flare and texture to proceedings and Meyer takes turns with the guitars to provide harmonic backing for each other.
Adam Jones of Tool plays on two of the songs from Wavering Radiant'; at the time of writing these songs remain officially unspecified and it is testament to the creativity of both Isis and Jones that a man with such a distinctive sound can blend so seamlessly into two songs to the point where even a major fan of his couldn't pick out exactly where he appears. // 9
Lyrics: Aaron Turner's vocal contributions are still arguably the most extrinsic feature of his band's sound, but his verses seem less sporadic; given more structure than the music itself. Not an awful lot new is done with the vocals, but Turner seems to have found a definite equilibrium with the other instruments when singing clean, something that he has appeared to struggle with on past albums. It should be left to the Isis nerds to decipher any concepts or themes this album has hidden, but the sort of images provoked by the title of Wavering Radiant' come thick in the lyrics, if not fast. It's somewhat ironic that such a positive album musically contains songs that are titled rather ominously (Ghost Key', Stone To Wake A Serpent'), but I doubt that there's anything as depressing as the concept behind Oceanic' present here. // 9
Overall Impression: In hindsight, it feels like a lot of the progressive steps taken on In The Absence Of Truth' (especially the focus on clean vocals) were merely establishing giant's shoulders for Wavering Radiant' to stand proud on. There are few moments of bone-dissolving heaviness in the traditional sludge manner, but changes in the mix and guitar tone would render that ineffective anyway; in its place we have moments like the dramatic conclusion to the record on Threshold Of Transformation', where the rich soundscape builds and builds into a final emotional pummelling before cutting to a reflective solo guitar which ends the fifth and best Isis album in striking fashion. // 9
- Duncan Geddes aka duncang (c) 2009