Isis - Wavering Radiant
Ipecac Recordings
Sludge/Post Metal
7 songs (54'05")
Release year: 2009
Isis, Ipecac Recordings
Reviewed by Adam
Major event
For a band who is reportedly as fiercely private as Isis, this has to be the most crucial and interesting point in their career thus far. 2006’s In the Absence of Truth brought them the most critical and mainstream exposure they have received to date, aided by a run as the opening act for Tool. However, that album was also a further departure from their harder edged earlier albums, incorporating more of the post rock stylings found in Panopticon. In truly linear fashion, 2009’s follow up Wavering Radiant is even more subdued and melodic.

To reiterate, those who didn’t care for In the Absence of Truth are undoubtedly going to care even less for Wavering Radiant. The experience of listening to this album feels a bit like being lost at sea. There are times when you are serenely whisked along under a peaceful sun, and others where storms rage and toss you about. The key for Isis is that these transitions are almost always seamless and perfectly executed. The opening track, Hall of the Dead (one of two tracks to feature a guest appearance by Tool’s Adam Jones, this time on guitar), starts with an excellent restrained riff, that expands to ferocious levels when joined by Aaron Turner’s gruff vocals. The results are Isis at their most melodic, aided at times by a faint keyboard component. Upon hearing the harder portions of this track, one glaring issue comes to light, at least for me. Sludge is a genre where production is key. Perhaps I’m spoiled by the likes of Steve Albini (whose work on the latest Neurosis album was nothing short of perfect), but I like the heavier parts to really pound and resonate. This is where I feel that producer Joe Baressi falls short. The production is by no means bad, and the man’s past work (The Melvins, Clutch) speaks for itself, but the heavier riffs really just lack the punch I like. In addition, Turner’s growled vocals are at a strange level lower in the mix, robbing them of some of their power as well. This is unfortunate, because there are some extremely heavy riffs to be heard. Hand of the Host immediately comes to mind. Wavering Radiant’s near 11-minute centerpiece, it comprises the highlight of the album for me. Though it starts calmly enough, with some drifting clean vocals over a post rock base, it is soon framed by the heaviest riffing on the album, punctuated by deep growls and the positively outstanding drum work of Aaron Harris. The rest of the track is a series of building crescendos that wonderfully weave both post rock and sludge elements very well. Adam Jones makes another appearance, this time on the keyboard, for the short title track interlude. Stone to Wake a Serpent is a further trip into the dreamlike post rock realm, this time dominated by clean vocals and even an occasional vocal harmony to match the almost psychedelic quality of the guitars and effects. Once again it is worth noting that Aaron Harris shines on the drums. Where this track is calmly subdued, 20 Minutes/40 Years starts in an ominously subdued manner, with a dark and unsettling bass riff being the most prominent instrument. Turner’s echoed clean vocals sound distant and his growls are at times bursting with emotion. As for the post rock side of things, I felt the latter portions of this track to be the strongest display on the album. When compared to most of the pacing of the album, the closing track, Threshold of Transformation, is a curious changeup. It starts at its heaviest and most crushing point before gradually descending to its calmest and most minimalist towards the end.

Wavering Radiant should be effective in continuing the mainstream momentum Isis began to build with In the Absence of Truth. The post rock elements add an air of accessibility, along with the melodic heavy moments. It’s a shame that said heavy moments are a bit too devoid of power thanks to the production mix, but that’s an admittedly minor quibble, possibly even nitpicky on my part. This was an important record in the band’s history, and one that has been pulled off very well in my opinion. Fans of In the Absence of Truth will want to pick this up immediately.
Killing Songs :
Hand of the Host, 20 Minutes/40 Years, Threshold of Transformation
Adam quoted 87 / 100
Goat quoted 90 / 100
Other albums by Isis that we have reviewed:
Isis - In The Absence Of Truth reviewed by James and quoted 92 / 100
Isis - Oceanic reviewed by Goat and quoted 92 / 100
Isis - Celestial reviewed by Goat and quoted 84 / 100
Isis - Panopticon reviewed by Daniel and quoted 87 / 100
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