With the warmed-over In the Absence of Truth in 2007, it seemed like Isis had reached a standstill. The band had practically invented what’s now called post-metal—a heady mix of doom metal, prog rock, and the instrumental soundscapes of Tortoise and Mogwai—on its early EPs and refined the form on its first three albums. After the delirious pummeling of 2004’s Panopticon, what was left for Isis except to repeat themselves?
They’ve found new energy on Wavering Radient, even if they’re still headed in a similar direction. The same elements are at play—crushing guitar riffs and death-metal vocals countered with spaced-out instrumental passages and clean singing—but it’s all presented in a lean new form. Much of the credit belongs to the sharp, stripped-down production by Joe Baressi; even with an average length of more than seven minutes, the songs feel pointed and directed. The disc’s power comes from the band’s new confidence in its songwriting. Rather than just piecing together riffs and ratcheting up the volume, here the band relies on a more sophisticated sense of dynamics than they’ve ever shown.
A few years ago it looked like Isis had reached the logical end of something. Wavering Radient shows them coming out the other side with all-new possibilities.