Hydra Head 2009
It’s hard not to appreciate the niche that Isis have carved out for themselves over the years. Through clearly documented gestation they have evolved into a masterful mix of ambient melody and crushing aggression that is matched only by their forefathers in groups like Neurosis and Tool. If “Wavering Radiant” displays anything though, it is a knack for skillful dynamic release where harmony and aggression war for control with the elegance and intelligence of a Grandmaster chess battle.
Not to slight the band, but in the past there has been a prevailing sense of heavy handedness where the balance between their emotions was impulsive and generally in disarray. With “Wavering Radiant” the group certainly lean more towards a progressive melodic style flush with atmosphere and build-up; but this direction also seems to serve a more channeled momentum. That’s not saying there isn’t a cacophony of noise on display, but there’s a directness to it now where cleanly sung vocals and bottom heavy ascension can go so far as to recall something as deceptively simplistic as Cave In‘s “Jupiter” days.
Sure there’s still the bestial growls and the inevitable primal bludgeoning where the listener is left to plummet back to earth after a serene ascensive build-up. But these moments now fit more organically in the mix than they did in the past. Clearly this bands time on the road with Tool, whose guitarist Adam Jones even contributes to two songs on this effort, has benefited them as the level of sophistication and prog rock inclinations here tower above that found on their previous works. This is no small part thanks to an expanded instrumental arsenal and a bolstered confidence behind their implementation.
But for all the grandeur and majesty that has become increasingly more prevalent with Isis, the monolithic earthen nature that has defined them remains omnipresent. This is something producer Joe Barresi has an affinity for capturing and once again does so expertly here. Those who haven’t enjoyed Isis‘ offerings in the past may find this outing easier to digest and take in, but as a whole, “Wavering Radiant” is entirely canon for the group. This is both a blessing and a curse, for while this album does exhibit perhaps their most concise grasp on their creative vision and sonic range; it also doesn’t necessarily offer anything unexpected. Rather it just expands upon the already established ground rules with increasing …ahem, radiance and enhanced attention to detail.
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