DON’T KNOW WHAT a “wavering radiant” is? Well, join the club. But you can still appreciate Wavering Radiant, the fifth and latest album from Isis.
As fans have come to expect, the album contains a thematic thread, although bandleader and Hydra Head Records founder Aaron Turner is refusing to divulge what it is. In fact, he won’t even discuss the lyrics or even shed light on what inspired the title. As he explained on a March Headbanger’s Ball podcast, he wishes to preserve his emotional and intellectual connection to the music, and talking about it in interviews wears down that connection. For now,Turner says he’s saving it so he can bring more energy to playing live.
Listeners will just have to fumble their way through Wavering Radiant in the dark, which perfectly suits the band’s brooding sound.The sense of mystery, in fact, only heightens the experience, as it allows the images to germinate and take shape over time in a way that mirrors the music’s slow-building tension. Arguably, previous Isis records have lumbered under the weight of Turner’s concepts. But the haunted shadows lying in wait within Wavering Radiant’s detailed folds provide nooks, crannies and dark corners galore for the imagination to fill in the blanks. And when the music opens up into expansive sonic vistas, the band achieves an elegance that verges on the pastoral.
Much like Tool and Neurosis—both key influences—Isis has always managed to keep one foot in the realm of metal. And the band, originally from Boston and now based in L.A., now gets to enjoy a kind of clichéexempt status, unencumbered by the baggage normally associated with metal. But perhaps most importantly, it’s able to reach audiences across genre boundaries.
Not that Isis hasn’t earned it. By blending elements of prog, ambient, drone and hardcore with heavy guitars and death metal–style growling vocals, Isis forges a distinct post-metal alloy. And, as the band meanders through the many drawn-out passages on Wavering Radiant, it achieves nuance in the way it casts subtle shades of darkness and light, as well as the expected advances in how to render texture, color and mood with increased finesse.
“To me,” says guitarist Michael Gallagher, “the new material follows our for mula somewhat, but I think there’s enough deviation from that. It’s quiet… a little less quiet… loud.There’s a lot of that, but we threw some curveballs in there too.”
Wavering Radiant sees Isis exerting, and arguably still searching for, more command in the way it transcends the binary, Nivanaesque loud-soft dynamic so common to heavy bands that prominently feature melody. Isis brings a more refined palette to the table and suggests that loud and quiet and soft and heavy actually exist on a continuum, with infinite points between them, as opposed to mutually exclusive poles. Additionally, the band focuses on interplay more than ever before, for what Turner describes as an “orchestral” kind of density, rather than the more typical, stacked-guitars brand of thickness it usually employed in the past. And, somewhat shocking for a band known for its meticulousness, Wavering Radiant captures Isis embracing a more loose approach. Although the bulk of the material was worked out before entering the studio, the band didn’t have a game plan, worked intentionally without a deadline and tended toward spirit over precision.
“The record sounds more live,” says Gallagher, “a little bit dirtier—almost, for lack of a better word, sloppy. But in a good way.We spent a lot of time getting all of our takes as close to perfect as we could on previous records. On this one, we went more with the vibe of the particular take in question. I thought that was an interesting way to go about it, seeing as we haven’t tried that before.”
Meanwhile, fans that insist on having the band’s help in “getting” the album need not worry.Turner’s vocals are higher in the mix, and Gallagher says the band eventually plans to disclose the lyrics.
“If you’re that interested that you want to chase after it,” he says, “it’s more important to us that you come to your own deductions.”
June 2, Fillmore New York at Irving Plaza, 17 Irving Pl. (at E. 15th St.), 212-777-6800; 9, $20/$22