If there's one evolving band in metal today, it's Isis. From the sludgy debut "Celestial" to the complex release of "In the Absence of Truth," Isis has been releasing albums marked by their trademark but maturing sound. So does "Wavering Radiant" follow this trend or does it upset it?
The song "Hall of the Dead" opens the album in the way an anticipated metal album should: a rising crescendo, suddenly disrupted by a groovy downtuned chugging riff. The addition of Bryant Clifford Meyer's eccentric electronics provide a dreamy supplement to Isis' rather rough sound. However, the most notable element of the music becomes clear at the recognition of the bass guitar - the intricate lines not only serve to lay down a groovy foundation, but Jeff Caxide uses his instrument skillfully to add eerie atmosphere with leads. Combined with Isis' excellent sense of progression, the end of this first track creates the anticipation of greater things to come.
If not yet realized, the following track "Ghost Key" confirms the importance of Isis' drum work - the drumming is consistently tight in agreement with their previous releases, particularly "In the Absence of Truth." The production of the drums is such that the drums only seem to do what is necessary - the beats are complex, but the overall tightness of the sound, in contradicting juxtaposition with the rather dirty and reverb-laden sounds of the guitars and bass, serve to provide coherence as the backbone of the music. The subtle electronics are new, but strangely, they still appear familiar in regard to Isis' style; they appear almost everywhere but never sound overdone, just as the stripes of a tiger never seem excessive on its fur, but rich and magnificent.
The song "Hand of the Host" repeats the general concept of the prior track, with shifting dynamics enhanced by the addition or absence of various tones and sounds. Subtlety is key here - the guitars are no longer as reliant on memorability, but atmosphere. Melodic fills and the dissonance often caused by them are not weak or feeble, but create just as much impact as riffs from older Isis songs such as "Carry" and "In Fiction."
The title track "Wavering Radiant" serves as a gateway from the first half of the disc to the next. Purely an atmospheric filler track, it is reminiscent of classic psychedelia, calling into reminder the title of the album "Wavering Radiant" - the music truly does seem to waver and vacillate in the likeness of an introspective journey of the human mind.
Again, coherence enters the music again with the drums of "Stone to Wake a Serpent." While the rawness is still there, this track evokes feelings more akin to that of King Crimson-esque progressive rock, again enhanced by the keyboards. The guitars move the song forward, and the oscillating sounds occasionally invoked by them serve as the canvas for ethereal guitar and bass work. Seen from the beholder's perspective, an image of depression and disillusioning gain of human knowledge can be imagined.
With "20 Minutes/40 Years," we approach the realm of darkness within the mind - the creeping atmosphere is almost overwhelming and becomes fulfilled by the ferocity of Aaron Turner's growls and distorted guitars. His new reliance on singing for the sake of shifting moods becomes more apparent when they come in. Has Isis ever been this thoughtful before? And even in this complexity, the song further rides on the low bass lines that essentially just... sing. The consistency of the album so far has been relatively uniform but continue to intrigue, just like a well-written novel.
The final track begins violently; we are at the onset of a violent "Threshold of Transformation." Turner's vocals invoke images of a feeble, moaning man; then, we realize that this is the purposeful effect of his singing. The dynamics of the interlude of the song progress excitedly and violently as a growing response to its introduction; something within is changing...transforming. The drums serve as the engine to this transformation while the guitars seem to spiral in within the music. The darkness of the almost completely instrumental ending of the album conjure up a sense of hopelessness. The mysterious, eerie finale of the music calls the listener into self-observance.
Isis has been marked for having consistent concepts through each of their albums, and this is no exception; this is undeniably Isis. However, the band has realized the effect of tiny subtleties and discovered a new path in their musical existence. To answer the question of the beginning paragraph, yes, Isis is continuing to follow the evolutionary trend of their sound. The music is maturing to become a true work of art, painting landscapes and evoking deep sentiments and emotions. Isis' music has never been so interpretive as it is on "Wavering Radiant," a new masterpiece in the page of post-metal.