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The Haul: Isis's Wavering Radiant

67. Isis – Wavering Radiant 2LP – Ipecac, 2009 – $25

Isis' Wavering Radiant

Ever since I learned my lesson about blind-buying $20 LPs with The Arcade Fire’s hugely disappointing Neon Bible, I’ve made a habit of giving a few spins to any recent releases before purchasing them new. (My used LP buying habits more than make up for this lack of unfamiliar ground.) Isis’s Wavering Radiant is a slight exception, since I’d listened to and enjoyed a few songs from it since the record first leaked, but I hadn’t given it a full listen. It’s not a matter of me not enjoying those songs—“Ghost Key” matches the highlights from In the Absence of Truth, “Holy Tears” and “Garden of Light”—but I just haven’t been in the mood to listen to a whole Isis album. Panopticon and Oceanic are absorbing, consistent LPs, but they’re also draining experiences. I’m still willing to drop a steep $25 on the double LP, however, trusting their consistent output a bit more than The Arcade Fire (even if In the Absence of Truth was a notch below Panopticon).

It’s unfortunate that Isis strayed from their usual fall release schedule, since the group’s oppressive post-metal begs for dark evenings and creeping frost. Judging from my scattered listens, Wavering Radiant returns to some of the pre-Oceanic riffs and aggression without losing those drifting, devastating instrumental passages (the bridge of “20 Minutes / 40 Years” certainly counts). There’s no shortage of chorus-laden, Peter Hook-style bass leads, atmospheric keyboards, or Aaron Turner’s vocals, but those guitar riffs keep things centered. I would prefer smaller doses of Turner’s guttural screams and Tool-informed singing voice, but the balance between those two approaches seems to be better than In the Absence of Truth, which relied too much on the melodic vocals. Check in with me in November to see how this album’s holding up.

Isis and Jesu

I missed seeing Isis last May when I opted for paper writing over show going, but there isn’t too much guilt about heading out on a Saturday in March aside from missing a late NCAA game. Jesu (pronounced “yayzu”) managed to get their recent visa problems worked out, so I managed to see two bands that had records in my top 20 of 2006. Zozobra was the other opening act and were alright for a more scream-heavy metal band, but naturally I preferred the closing instrumental song to the rest of their set.

Jesu quickly topped the finest moments of Zozobra’s set with an absolutely crushing rendition of “We All Faulter” from the self-titled record. I cannot stress how loud this was from my vantage point twelve feet away from the big speakers; my scalp was vibrating for almost the entirety of the set and my teeth started to hurt. Most of the sonic details of the songs were relegated to background tracks running off a laptop, but Broadrick and his rhythm section filled in every possible gap underneath the occasional melodic twitch of those feedback loops. His voice sounded excellent live, a soothing, meditative presence amidst the punishing heft. Jesu only played five songs (“Silver,” “Conqueror,” “Friends Are Evil,” and “Transfigure” filled out the set), but since almost all of these reached toward the ten-minute mark, it felt complete. I might have preferred if Broadrick had recruited a second guitarist or keyboard player to replicate the details from the studio rather than opt for the laptop route (cough, M83, cough), but since the end result still strayed heavily from the studio versions, I’ll let it pass.

Isis treads a very fine line in their live performances; their recent songs are based on interlocking parts, which all need to be heard live in order for the songs to take shape, but the band also needs the bulging riffs to carry the necessary weight and energy. I was a bit surprised at how well they accomplished both of these without sounding too much like spot-on re-enactments of the records, a practice I’ve been wary of since seeing a textbook, but somewhat lifeless Pelican performance last summer. It was great seeing who was doing what on the songs and how. Aaron Harris didn’t reveal any major surprises, but his drumming held the songs together during the drifting sections.

The set list seems to be typical for this tour, which is a bit frustrating seeing as it avoided most of my preferred Isis tracks (“Garden of Light,” “So Did We,” “Weight,” “Carry” “Syndic Calls”) in favor of half of the new record, although “Holy Tears,” “In Fiction,” and “Not in Rivers but in Drops” all killed. They did play “Celestial” as an encore, which came as a surprise since I’d heard that the band hadn’t taken kindly to recent requests for the song. I hoped that they might stick around to play “Garden of Light,” which would have been an excellent closer, but no dice.

Beyond the two excellent performances, I was also able to pick up a few of the recent vinyl releases that had either eluded me or been overpriced at Newbury Comics: Jesu’s Silver and the Isis/Aereogramme In the Fishtank collaboration. The former was only $15 (as opposed to $20 plus shipping from Hydrahead’s store) and the latter only $12, so grab them from the shows if possible. Both bands had wide arrays of clothing, but since my t-shirt drawer is reaching critical mass, I decided against further merch pick-ups.