4 out of 5
Produced by: Joe Baretti
At both ends of their run, ISIS had achieved final forms: as a tight, heavy, hardcore unit, and then as post-metal maestros. Inbetween, we can debate how effectively they’d bridged the gap, bringing in experimental expansiveness and forefronting themes to their albums. Through all of the critical acclaim along the way, and the many RIYLs they’d accrue, and influence they’d impart, my dumb ears never quite got the ISIS bug – they played what they played quite perfectly, and to me, that resulted in little surprise when listening to their work. Wavering Radiant, their last album, gathered up all the bits and pieces of their accomplishments and skills and added polish to the polish: the group reached out beyond the usual pool of hardcore producers they’d used (Bayles, Ballou) and tapped a dude with some mainstream crossover – Joe Baretti – and allowed themselves to drift into what I might non-insultingly refer to as ‘radio friendly metal.’ This is done without sacrificing Aaron Turner’s throaty yelling, or the group’s thick and blasting chugga-chuggas; rather, it takes that predictability and shaves off some of the – again, my point of view – artifice, flipping the equation so that every song very intentionally hits home. It’s no longer solely calculated to be “experimental,” but also impactful; direct. All killer, no filler, as it were. The balance between Turner’s clean singing and screams have a verse-chorus-verse effect; the timing between musical downbeats and the blasts of noise are paced for ultimate immersion – you don’t have to work for anything on Wavering Radiant.
Of course, that can lend the album its own form of predictability, but, subconsciously, I think this is where the disc’s more relaxed themes helps: though I’m highlighting the, essentially, streamlined process above, it seems as though that was due to a juxtaposingly more relaxed recording approach, and Turner’s thoughts turned to Jungian dream-stuff. So whereas before, my boredom was achieved partially from the lack of musical twists and turns and being forcefed some messaging (through both the songs’ construction and the lyrics), those layers are removed, and the predictability is more of a boon than not. However, one nit remains: the ISIS dudes never step outside of a very aurally palatable range of tones. Nothing’s atonal, or from a narrow spectrum of sounds; Turner – whether singing or screaming – has a vocal register that sits right in the middle. So Wavering Radiant is wholly enjoyable, but it’s also pretty easy to let songs drift into one another; you don’t have to discern one or the other.
I would’ve been interested to see the band develop from here, perhaps leaning even more into crossover metal territory. At the same time, I get ending it at this point: this is a fine swan song. Whether or not I agree with the group having broken barriers and whatnot during their time, Wavering Radiant is a conclusive endpoint, and maybe the only ISIS album one needs to own.