By Kevin Stewart-Panko
A couple weeks ago, the world’s most accomplished stoner, multiple gold medallist Michael Phelps, returned to the pool after serving out his suspension for inhaling what, considering his lung capacity, must have been enough weed smoke to lay out the state of Utah. Supposedly, during his first race back, he successfully experimented with a new arm stroke which made a noticeable difference to him, his coaches and those who understand the minutiae of swimming stroke arm position, but meant fuck all to the rest of us land lubbers. What this illustrates – aside from the fact the pro-pot lobby missed a golden opportunity to show that marijuana probably ain’t all that bad – is that those knee deep in the know are able to sift through and spot the seemingly microscopic differences that those not in the know are blind to or unaware of. To those in the know and with intimate knowledge of the subject, slight change is big change even if no one realizes it.
Already, cursory listeners, part-time fans and those who believe they have Isis figured out have dismissed Wavering Radiant as more of the same and it has created a sectarian backlash against all things Neur-Isis, like it’s somehow Isis’ fault the rest of the metal/post-metal world lacks imagination. But it’s not like that, as Isis continue to do their thing in their definitive style, but with enough alteration and creativity so that they remain at the forefront of whatever movement they’re being accused of leading.
“Hall of the Dead”s crushing introductory chords and palm muted picking hearken back to Celestial’s upbeat twist on Godflesh before ringing guitar chords, Aaron Turner’s slightly off-key voice and Cliff Meyer’s busy keyboards attach a healthy psychedelic feel to the song, which concludes with a flurry of powerful stacked chords. Same sort of thing goes for “Ghost Key,” which starts all mellow-like before entering the crush zone, resplendent with a near black metal rasp from the Xasthur-lovin’ Turner. The organic keyboards add a nice little bit of texture to the monolithic chords in “Stone to Wake a Serpent,” while Aaron Harris is rock-solid in holding down the fort and not allowing the eight-minute average length songs sloppily devolve into meandering jam sessions where everyone goes off in their own direction, a problem previous album In the Absence of Truth wrestled with at times.
Isis’s approach may, erm, waver more than usual, but there’s a sense of cohesive refinement and subtle experimentation to this album that was only hinted at previously. Now, for some real experimentation let’s get Phelphs down to the Isis rehearsal room with his bong in tow and see what shenanigans ensue. (Ipecac )