Isis' Wavering Radiant is a tremendous accomplishment.
This album sees the band growing into a much tighter musical force, with greater focus on composition. The songs boast a feel of utter thoroughness, unlike the ones on their previous album, In the Absence of Truth. This is the result of all band members having written the album together rather than flying from the east coast to the west for sessions where every member tried to piece together their own riffs and melodies.
Although comprised by seven tracks, Wavering Radiant feels like a single composition broken down into parts for easier navigation purposes. There are nebuluos musical ideas linking the tracks together to achieve a cohesive vibe. Each cut is imbued with common musical threads, macro-compositional tonal centres, that strangely evoke previous (and following, as you go through the disc several times) numbers. What's more, sometimes the band employs the technique in the same track. The exchange of a single-riff theme between guitars, bass, drums, and even vocals on "Hand of the Host" is a prime example of this feat. Then, two tracks later, an awkwardly familiar theme appears and subtly glues them together.
Aaron Turner continues his classic harsh, raspy yells but also mixes it up with clean passages that are spread across the album. He is more courageous this time around, as he swiftly moves from his shattering growls to strangely addictive clean harmonies. In a way, this reminds me of Mikael Akerfeldt circa My Arms, Your Hearse. Though his clean singing still lacked greatly, it matched the flow of the record perfectly. The same case applies for Aaron Turner. His low, almost spoken-like delivery on the aforementioned "Hand of the Host" or the ending of "Stone to Wake a Serpent" is unexpectedly gripping given his abilities as a 'normal' singer. His clean singing has a dreamlike quality to it, and thus matches the lyrical theme of the album. Also, listen to the clean vocals on "20 Minutes / 40 Years," amidst the shimmering keyboards, heavy-duty bass, and nuanced drumming. He sounds absolutely desperate and convincing, especially when contrasted by the panicky growls later on.
Having worked with noted producer Joe Barresi (Melvins, Tool), the production is the best ever, with incredible tonal depth and sonic expanse. The drums sound a lot tighter, with some great Tool influence. There are tribal rhythms, fierce double-bass parts, and sparse, trance-like beats. The bass tone has never been better on an Isis album. Not only that, Jeff Caxide covers a broad spectrum. Rather than merely following the guitars or main melody, he assumes a central role in pretty much every song, providing counterpoint to the guitars and vocals as well as accentuating the songs' shifting moods. When he is not actively present in a progression, he serves a heavy low-end for added tension.
What cannot go unmentioned is keyboardist Bryant Clifford Meyer's contribution. His wide-ranging tone selections help achieve deeper atmospheres, especially on the Floydian pyschedelia that permeats "Threshold of Formation," by far their most epic and majestic album closer. Also, his slithering organs and shimmering keyboards draped over swirling guitar noise on the mid-section of "Hall of the Dead" are marvelous and extend the scope of the compositions.
Adam Jones from Tool appears on the album as a guest contributor, particularly shining on "Ghost Key," whose intro is both ghostly and beautifully fresh sounding. His use of modulation effects operates as a parameter to the wonderfully layered arrangement and nuanced drumming. He distills a textural element into the song which is patiently built into a quiet acoustic coda.
Wavering Radiant is an excellent body of work. This may be the album I've listened to most this year. It is absolutely addictive.
- Hall of the Dead
- Ghost Key
- Hand of the Host
- Wavering Radiant
- Stone to Wake a Serpent
- 20 Minutes / 40 Years
- Threshold of Transformation