ISIS - In the Absence of Truth
Since the inception of ISIS in 1997, their sound has undergone a gradual transformation. Rooted in aggressive, post-hardcore metallic intensity akin to Neurosis or Godflesh, early releases Mosquito Control and The Red Sea combined gritty, screaming vocals and thunderous walls of distortion layered with samples and melodic, ambient soundscapes. In the Absence of Truth retains a little of that early sound, but overall is more consistently melodic and subtle.
The band’s early years were marked by several lineup changes although their core has remained the same, consisting of Hydrahead Records owner Aaron Turner (vocals), Jeff Caxide (bass) Aaron Harris (drums). Both Randy Larsen (Cable) and Jay Randall (Agoraphobic Nosebleed) have had stints as members. Ultimately Mike Gallagher (Cast Iron Hike) and Cliff Meyer (The Gersch) joined the band, forming the current lineup. Matt Bayles, who has produced albums by Botch, Mastodon, and Norma Jean, signed on to produce the 2000 release of their first full-length, Celestial, which earned the band national attention and was chosen as one of the top 15 records of 2000 by Metal Maniacs writers and one of the top 10 by Loudnet. The album finds ISIS at their sludgiest and most complex: progressive, almost spacey guitar interludes build up to fiercly crashing drums that complement the dense guitar and Turner’s vicious, hoarse screams.
That sound, however, seems to be gone. Subsequent releases Oceanic and Panopticon lay the groudwork for the band’s more atmospheric, abstract and pared-down sound. Rhythmic and complex guitar melodies have replaced the wall of noise. Vocal harmonies now outnumber Turner’s earlier primal screams. In the Absence of Truth shares more in common with Meyer’s experimental side project, Red Sparowes. The disappointing opener “Wrists of Kings” combines a tribal drum rhythm with a delicate and dissonant guitar melody to build up to the expected crashing payoff, but it is never delivered. Instead the song dissolves into a progressive, meandering and flat piece without any cathartic resolution. The standout track is “Dulcinea,” which merges the best of both early and present ISIS. A catchy guitar harmony and sonorous vocals flow into driving, rhythmic and distorted sections marked by Turner’s formerly characteristic growl.
Fans of sludge/metal are likely to find In the Absence of Truth disappointing. Those with an ear for more progressive and ambient tunes will find this album to be money well spent.