Wednesday, 2 September 2009

REVIEW: Isis - Wavering Radiant

Long overdue as it is, this review has been justifiably delayed during the summer months. As outstanding as almost every Isis record is, the balmier months lend themselves to upbeat, breezy and immediately catchy tunes, rather than the winding sonic journeys created by bands of this ilk. Add to this the fact that albums of such a depth take a correspondingly lengthier period to digest and you have my roundabout logic for not posting more about this album until now. Run with it.

Following on from 2007's suitably labyrinthine effort 'In the Absence of Truth', Isis has long since passed the point of needing to compare their newest work to the previous outing. From 'Oceanic' onwards, the band has carved its way to the forefront of expansive, intricate music that loosely fits under the post-rock/metal genre. As they release 'Wavering Radiant' - the fourth full length on Ipecac and fifth in all - the band is essentially expected to deliver a cohesive set of songs with an overall vision summarised by the music. Simple, right?

It's important to take a step back and realise how consistently excellent the work of Isis has been over the course of this decade that we unfortunately have to label the noughties. This album closes it out in ever glorious style, with dense soundscapes conjured up as nonchalantly as any one of us may scribble out our signature.

Feeling as natural as the band has sounded since the aforementioned (and landmark release) 'Oceanic', the album opens up with the broad Hall of the Dead. All towering riffs and colossal percussion, the song rips and swirls at the senses before providing brief respite in the slower, more melodic interludes. Often aided by the haunting keys of Clifford Meyer, it's a sprawling piece that somehow whips by in what seems like seconds, yet is really closer to 8 minutes in length. Ghost Key follows, arriving understated with interweaving high guitar lines and a simple rhythm section, before inevitably plummeting into heavier fare replete with gut-wrenching bellows and a depth to the bass that befits the low levels being explored. Similarly lengthy, there is certainly no attempt at making the songs immediately accessible. The music is approached in such painstaking detail, with so many ideas being thrown into the sound, that only similarly careful and attentive listening will reveal the album's truest rewards.

At 7 tracks this is the shortest Isis album since 'Celestial', though the sheer amount of ideas - and the successful juxtaposition thereof - crammed into the songs affords 'Wavering Radiant' an epic, coherent quality. Attempting to decipher the meaning of the songs in the context of the delivery, lyrics, artwork, and song titles puts one on something of a similarly mammoth journey, as there are months worth of musings to be had in doing so. What is evident, however, is that everything fits together exactly as it was intended, or at least we have to assume as much given the band's enthusiasm for the music they have created. The songs meander down a particularly astrological path, shimmering for a time before exploding in supernova style, exploring the fires and chaos of the chemical reactions, then fading slowly into a more reflective, spacious state. The ten minute midpoint of Hand of the Host followed by the far shorter, ambient title track, provides an early case in point.

In achieving this substance through their own oft-imitated, rarely bettered style, Isis has again created a masterpiece that will set the bar for their contemporaries for years to come. Most probably it will only be improved upon by the band itself, with the possible exception of the equally consistent brilliance of Neurosis or Mastodon. Alongside these lofty peers, Isis form a small vanguard of the most talented and productive artists engaging in forms of metal that continue to push the boundaries of the genre (the intriguing black and death subcategories notwithstanding).

ISIS Wavering Radiant Studio Footage from ISIS THE BAND on Vimeo.

Buy 'Wavering Radiant' online here

For all the attempts to review, dissemble, and finally sum up a record such as 'Wavering Radiant', what it ultimately boils down to is the fact that this is an Isis record. Without taking anything away from the creativity and unique nature of the stand alone album, the fact that this group of musicians made it is a seal of quality in and of itself. Having done so several times before under a variety of concepts, the band has proven they will always deliver the goods without becoming stale.

One gets the feeling that they would much rather dissolve the band than release something undeserving of the monicker. In the end, there is no higher recommendation than that of those who created 'Wavering Radiant' in the first place.

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