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Isis - In the Absence of Truth

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Artist: Isis

Album: In the Absence of Truth

Label: Ipecac

Review date: Feb. 7, 2007

The road continues for post-Neurosis metalgazers Isis. On their fourth full-length, they continue to refine the basic materials – drone, dirge, riff, and (more recently) melody – that have preoccupied them for nearly a decade. Significantly or not, they now rarely refer to themselves as a metal band, preferring instead to describe themselves as experimental, psychedelic, and progressive. With a steady lineup (singer/guitarist Aaron Turner, guitarist Michael Gallagher, guitarist/keyboardist Clifford Meyer, bassist Jeff Caxide and drummer Aaron Harris), the LA-based quintet has earned their claim to those terms even as they can still crunch with the best of them.

Much has been made of the conceptual nodding of the group’s recent album titles. Well, you don’t need any dime-store Foucault to appreciate the howl of Panopticon, nor do you need to speculate upon Aaron Turner’s apparent inspiration from Hassan-I-Sabbah (who is purported to have uttered the familiar pronouncement, “Nothing is true; everything is permitted”) to appreciate the music on their latest, In the Absence of Truth.

Here, the band constructs massive sweeping pathways between sonic cities, with cathedrals and high walls and gleaming spires. There is more layering than on previous efforts, and considerably more restraint as well. The band knows how to use tension and space and, most important of all, pacing: songs like “Wrist of Kings” build slowly and with purpose, with guitar counterpoint, moody organ and sinuous backbeats. Turner’s evermore melodic vocals sit at the heart of the music – but furtively, mixed down – and seem to express an uncertainty that pulls against the momentum of the songs. This gives the music that much more heft when the volume kicks in and the density increases (every so often with some old school crunch, as on “Holy Tears”). So songs like “Not in Rivers, But in Drops” and “Dulcinea” move between different textures and tempos, bursting with anthemic pride here and disorienting with psych-prog there.

Not everyone has been enthused with the changes in their sound, with some simply dismissing the band as having added a healthy dose of Tool to their blend of influences. But Isis knows enough about variation and elaboration to keep their music distinct. Not many bands can make a blend of tabla beats and grind dissonance (“Over Root and Thorn”) work so well. They remain a fantastic band, constructing their own cities of sound, a strange architecture with wine-dark interiors.

By Jason Bivins

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