04 May 2009
by Hazel Robinson
Aaron Turner has described Wavering Radiant as “the closest [Isis] will get to pop,” and said that it’s less rhythmically weird than previous albums. They’ve been working with Joe Barresi, rather than band staple Matt Bayles, as producer and apparently made the effort to all be living in the same place during the writing and recording. It’s not difficult to see how a change would occur, but at the same time, everything that was said about this album before I heard it made me feel as hellishly excited that Isis were back as it made me feel slightly ill at the thought of Isis going a bit rubbish by accident.
The good news is, they haven’t. Not at all. They have gone a bit different again, though. To me, Isis’ back catalogue comes in three stages: Celestial‘s murky, synaesthetic wanderings; Oceanic and Panopticon‘s deliberate, fine-tuned poise and finally the occasional, almost unreserved brutality that they seem to only unleash on EPs, with In The Absence Of Truth not quite sitting comfortably in any category or in fact particularly well with the rest of Isis’ back catalogue generally, since it seemed a bit of a retreat from Panopticon.
Wavering Radiant does. It sits happily with the droning buzzes of the Oceanic remix album and the almost messy-seeming (in comparison to their later stuff) riffing on Celestial and it doesn’t step back from heaviness or from Isis’ own legacy thus far. It’s definitely a new stage, though; it’s not really the sound of Isis going pop, it’s the sound of them experimenting with being a more normal band, briefly; a more minimal Mastodon or an artier Earth.
It’s still Isis, so it’s still rambling soundscapes and painting with riffs; opener ‘Hall Of The Dead’ is a roaring howl into chasms, paced and spacious but still weighty as fuck. The songs are still architectually impressive and there’s still the descriptive, narrative element to even the most apparently minimal riff. You’d be hard-pressed to imagine this was any other band if it came up on shuffle but at the same time, it might take you thirty seconds to realise it was Isis.
The rumbling, expansive groove of ’20 Minutes\40 Years’ is them in one of their heavier and more confident moods -as opposed to, say, the delicate, ponderous meander of ‘C.F.T.’ – and you know it’s them from the very first chord, really but there’s undeniably something different going on and it’s almost hard to pinpoint what, exactly except that it’s new.
Watch live footage of ’20 Minutes\40 Years’ by Isis @ London Scala
Different doesn’t always have to mean bad, of course and since mining the same vein as Oceanic has proven (as much as I love Panopticon) to be slightly redundant, artistically, for them it’s not surprising or disappointing to hear them doing something different or at least taking a different approache and Wavering Radiant is certainly better than In The Absence Of Truth (although Isis have never really made a bad album, they’re too OCD for that) so it seems unfair to punish it for not being their earlier work, since it’s almost certainly one of the albums of the year.
You can’t help thinking, though, that whilst this is Isis polished and theoretically perfected, timed and preened and edited so that they don’t just go on forever without any apparent cause or try to reproduce unrecordable sounds or just flounder in the wake of having accidentally made one of the best albums ever as their sophomore effort this just isn’t as good as they can be.
It’s still a stunning, hypnotic work. It’s still beautiful and artisticly ambitious and if a lot of bands came out with it, I’d be blown away and lying somewhere on the floor dribbling. You sort of brace yourself for that with Isis, though and it’s a backhanded compliment but this only suffers because they’re such a fucking amazing band.
Sounds like: 5ive, Knut, Mouth Of The Architect, having your mind slowly and lovingly fucked
Top tracks: Hall Of The Dead, 20 Minutes/40 Years, Threshold of Transformation
Isis – Wavering Radiant tracklisting
Hall Of The Dead
Hand Of The Host
Stone To Wake A Serpent
20 Minutes\40 Years
Threshold of Transformation