Isis Wavering Radiant
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01. Hall of the Dead
02. Ghost Key
03. Hand of the Host
04. Wavering Radiant
05. Stone to Wake a Serpent
06. 20 Minutes / 40 Years
07. Threshold of Transformation
Reviewed by: Nick
// Published: 5/14/2009
Isis' discography seems to be fairly easy to break up into three eras. There's the unbridled heaviness and grit of the band's early days (Mosquito Control and The Red Sea). Then there's the band's most influential days (Celestial through Panopticon) spent cleverly integrating more and more melody into their down-tuned songwriting backbone. And then there's the third era of Isis (In the Absence of Truth to the present), characterized by more singing, more noticeable synth lines, and a generally less abrasive sound.
Why is this categorization important Well, ask any longtime Isis fan to talk about their favorite albums, and the answer frequently sounds more or less like, "Well, I loved the early stuff because it was so heavy, but my favorite album is [insert Celestial, Oceanic, or Panopticon], and their current stuff -- it just doesn't hold up." For many, Wavering Radiant is the band's last chance to get back on the right track before their attention wanes and Isis is left with a fan base of recent transplants. Pressure on upcoming releases often feels like something concocted by the music press, but I've got to feed into the idea that this was a make-or-break album that would determine their career longevity.
This record is the shot of heaviness and intelligent songwriting that Isis diehards deserve. Take the opening track, "Hall of the Dead," as an example. It opens with that same style of precise riffing that the band used to christen the beginning of Celestial nine years ago. Much of that same riffing also carries over into one of the disc's most crushing moments heard in the opening ninety seconds of "Threshold of Transformation." And the midsection of "Stone to Wake a Serpent" hits that sweet spot of melody fused with thick guitar work and powerful screams. It sure sounds a lot like Panopticon. And that rules.
Yet Isis still hasn't abandoned a lot of the elements of In the Absence of Truth's slightly awkward purgatory between heaviness and accessibility. The more somber "Hand of the Host" certainly stands out as the track most caught in that songwriting area, and there's still plenty of clean singing strewn throughout Wavering Radiant's 54 minute duration. "20 Minutes / 40 Years" exudes a similar feel, but still succeeds on account of its soothing qualities and superb climax.
The key here is that although Wavering Radiant isn't likely to be regarded as quintessential Isis, it's a step back in the right direction. While Isis' low point of In the Absence of Truth was still more impressive than what many bands could ever dream of achieving, such a strong discography and an influential position in a continually burgeoning genre comes with great responsibilities and expectations. Wavering Radiant is a strong record that offers up a lot of the distinguishing elements from earlier in their career, and although it too probably won't be heralded as the band's best, it's proof that they're still capable of putting together one hell of an intelligent, heavy record.
Bottom Line: Wavering Radiant won't blow listeners away, but it will definitely rope back in a lot of the Isis fan base that was left a little skeptical after In the Absence of Truth. Isis is as relevant as ever, so although this isn't a masterpiece, it's still worthy of some well-deserved praise.
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