Friday, May 29, 2009

ISIS: Wavering Radiant

Isis - Wavering Radiant
The music on Wavering Radiant, the fifth album from Isis, uproots the traditionally earthbound sonics of Metal, deploying genre tokens (cookie-monster growls, distorted guitars) for purposes far from that forehead-punching we all love so much. This isn't the studded-leather of an Iron Maiden B-movie or the booze-and-blood pummel-chug of a Slayer melee. This stuff is weirdly ethereal.

Like Sleep, Isis tug at your ear with texture over virtuosity, shifting moods with negative space and gradual thematic development instead of sudden good-cop/bad-cop dynamics and glittering guitar shred. Where Sleep's distortion-pedal texture is a lead giant, however, Isis use their fancy stomp boxes to craft a a warm stratosphere of misty guitar sound that drowns listeners instead of crushing them.

This abrasive/ethereal sound (downy-soft blankets on beds of nails) and the mixed-low vocals put me in the same woozy headspace as My Bloody Valentine's Loveless and it gets even less Metal than that, fist-clenchers and teeth-grinders: The opening of "Hand of the Host" actually recalls Disintegration by The Cure. You might say that this is the sensitive art-kid metal that gets beat up by Slayer and Death but doesn't want to play Final Fantasy VII with Dragonforce. It wouldn't be terribly surprising to see Isis swapping mascara and Carl Jung essays with Tool. (Tool's Adam Jones was even nice enough to take time out from his band's latest Epic Hiatus to play guitar on Wavering Radiant. And all the Metalheads hug each other and knit scarves and swap tofu recipes.)

I've got no Metal credentials, and I'm pretty much a weepy pantywaist, but lest you think my endorsement of the new Isis record is an indie-kid dressing up to play headbanger, let me assure you that my Thrash-threshold is up to snuff. (Emperor isn't so scary once you've heard Throbbing Gristle.) I know it sounds like my affinity for this music is based on how un-Metal it is, and maybe that's partially true, but I'm not so attached to any genre that I require a test of authenticity. Who needs that black t-shirt albatross when you've got creativity like these guys? Isis are not farting around. They aren't watering down the music you love so your mom and Simon Cowell will buy, buy, buy at the iTunes machine. They just don't need to puff up their chests in a more-satanic-than-thou pissing contest. This band has written the best set of American Metal tunes since at least Lateralus, if not Master of Puppets, and they play them like it's no big deal, interacting with confident, sturdy musicianship, actually listening to each other instead of trying to outplay each other. Who needs Metal Ethos? Give us Isis.

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