Without a doubt, six months into 2009, it’s proving to be quite a year for the modern world of post-metal. Following in the footsteps of their contemporaries Mastodon and Lamb Of God, Los Angeles, CA’s own Isis have put together an incredibly mind-boggling and sinister album. From start to finish, Wavering Radiant is a brutal cosmic juggernaut of raw emotions and technical prowess with just the right amount of soul to tie it all together and keep it from falling apart. Songwriter/guitarist Aaron Turner makes great use of his ability to intertwine his throaty vocals and ambient guitar with the excellent musicianship of both bassist Jeff Caxide and keyboardist Bryant Clifford Meyer. At times, the band locks themselves into these inescapable grooves yet they know how to create some of the most hypnotic melodies within the past nine years. With their uncanny knack for perfected unpredictability, as seen on their 2006 release In The Absence Of Truth, Isis takes that flamethrower of musical prowess and relight that same blazing path they left off of three years ago.
Kicking off the album is the opener “Hall Of The Dead”. With its disjointed guitar parts over drummer Aaron Harris’ strict drumming, Isis waste no time in lighting up their musical glory. While extremely low and bass heavy, “Hall Of The Dead” showcases Turner’s juxtaposed vocals of sheer growling to soulful passages that cut through the grooves with extreme precision. It’s as if the band is going on a deep space exploration and quickly smashes the auto-pilot button while being sucked into a black hole. Images of panic, yet subdued waves of calm flash back and forth between the guitars and keyboards, much like a neverending tennis match of awesomeness. As said before, Turner’s guitar stands out with Meyer’s keyboards filling in the crevasses with just the right amount of subtle melody. What results is an almost eight minute disjointed epic with no room for excess. They know how to get the job done right away.
As the guitars quickly fade, they segue into their next tune, “Ghost Key”, arguably one of the best songs of the year thus far. Personal opinion aside, Isis craft here an incredible tune which comes early in the album. Combining droning and distant guitar parts with the loneliness of Turner’s angry vocals, “Ghost Key” comes off as a remarkable melting pot of emotions. Meyer’s keyboards and electronic wizardry pull on the song’s heartfelt strings seriously give what this song needs from time to time. Gobs and gobs of effects litter themselves over Turner’s guitar while Harris’s drumming keeps the song groove intact. Images of rolling hills, tornadoes, ghosts (yes those too), cyborgs, haunted mansions and countless other things you can find on a dark night come to mind in this bone-crunching tune. While the band dissolves the notion that they are labeled a “metal band,” Isis excels at combining heavy handed melodies and riffs over intricate and almost dream-pop harmonies and arrangements. “Ghost Key” is certainly worthy of the band at their finest and frankly they’ve only just started.
Following the crushing resolution of “Ghost Key”, the band takes it down a notch for “Hand Of The Host” but not before launching into another sonic war torn between its lighter guitars and heavy metal onslaught. The longest song on the record, at almost eleven minutes, “Hand Of The Host” is a bit much to swallow. While the first two cuts were exceedingly great, “Host” feels somewhat slow to start and a bit too predictable compared to the others. That’s not to say it’s a bad song at all, as Turner’s softer vocals shine brilliantly here, but his harsher vocals do tend to get rather redundant. That’s also to say the song itself is without its musical merits. Roughly four minutes in, the band crafts some of their best hypnotism yet, complete with Iron Maiden-esque guitar play and tribal drumming to boast. From this point on, it becomes apparent for Isis that they’ve reached the point of no return musically: their space exploration into their own deep black holes of the universe are imminent, and they’re hellbent on finishing the journey.
With a brief interlude on the title track, Isis launch into their final trio of excellent epic cuts, “Stone To Wake A Serpent”, “20 Minutes/40 Years” and the epic finale “Threshold Of Transformation”. What seems to follow the colossus of earth-shattering sounds, Isis consistently delivers punch after punch of excellent musicianship. Frankly, there are hardly any complaints at how tight these guys are. Compared to In The Absence Of Truth, Isis have taken some major leaps forward in their expressive musical personalities as well as their concepts. As we approach the dead center of 2009, this is definitely an album to grasp and never let go. Consider it a melodic metal blueprint for future things to come.