Isis: More Brilliant than the Sun

After over a decade of playing monstrously heavy art-metal, a genre which many attribute to having been created by them, <b>Isis</b> release their finest yet - a pseudo-best of. Guitarist <b>Bryant Clifford Meyer</b> talks to <b>Ali Maloney</b> about the band's journey.

Feature by Ali Maloney | 04 May 2009

Epic, sprawling and crushing yet still delicate and subtle, Isis have never been a band to court mainstream conformity. So it's a bit of a shock to hear singer Aaron Turner describe their new album as “the closest we will get to pop”.

But metal heads need not worry: Isis haven't turned out a collection of three minute verse-chorus-verse ditties about boys and bubblegum. Not just yet. Wavering Radiant is a monsterous album, simultaneously Isis' heaviest and their most measured record that draws upon all of the techniques the band have utilised, refined and made their own over their career.

“It kind of works as a ‘greatest hits’ in some ways,” suggests guitarist Bryant Clifford Meyer. “We’ve been making records for 11 years and we wanted to try and push ourselves a little harder. We re-wrote the songs hundreds of times before they were up to par. If there was 15 seconds of a song that didn’t work, then we took it out, if there was a whole song that didn’t work, then we took it out.

“There was a lot of discussion about how the album would work," he continues. "For the last few records we were spread out between LA and New York, but this time around we all lived in LA so were able to go down to the rehearsal space every day and sift through all of the crap and the parts and the songs. There was a much more communal writing process and it worked out very well this time around. We expressed ourselves much better and all of our influences came through.”

Equally at home playing for a goatee beard stroking experimental crowd as they are in front of beer swilling headbangers in faded Metallica t-shirts, Isis’ strength has always been their ability to crossover between crunching metal with the spiralling total-immersive ambience of post-metal.

“When we first started making music, we were trying to get away from just having guitars and keyboards,” says Bryant. “We were jamming these long passages and guitar riffs just didn’t make any sense in those sections. Then we started buying all these pedals and experimenting with what noises they could make and added them to our music, we were especially influenced by textural music and the more ambient side of things.

“With all our side-projects - whether you're talking about Mike’s NGR or Aaron’s House of Low Culture - everyone has different techniques and ideas that they bring to play with Isis. I guess those ideas marry each other in some weird, incestuous way, which is totally appropriate for the music we're making. And one thing’s for sure: effect pedals and Isis music go together very well.”

Having taken a lot longer writing and recording Wavering Radiant than previous full-length efforts, this record works more as a whole, harking back to days when albums were listened to in their entirety, rather than simply downloading a few choice tracks to bury in a playlist. However, the band are keen to stress that this isn’t a concept album that they’ll be performing ‘on ice’. Although Isis have a history of not discussing lyrics in interviews – singer Aaron Turner recently told MTV’s Headbangers Ball that this was because he didn’t “like to think during interviews”.

“As far as a lyrical theme or overarching concept, that really didn’t come into play, but we did wanted it to be an album, rather than a collection of songs,” says Bryant. Their long standing commitment to making music that’s as transcendental and meditative as it is ferocious and ‘kick-ass’ has seen Isis credited by many as one of the pioneering groups to develop the 'post-metal' sound.

“When we started out we were looking up to bands like Melvins, Neurosis and Mogwai," remembers Bryant. "We didn’t set out to start some tangent genre, we certainly did our fair share of looking up and borrowing from other bands. But that’s cool, and if people are looking up to us and borrowing from our sound, then long may it continue.”

Wavering Radiant is released via Conspiracy Records on 4 May.