For every full-length since Celestial, Isis had been on a seemingly upward trajectory. That album’s grand gesturing could hardly prepare listeners for Oceanic’s Slint-as-metal-band constructs. With its nautical themes and skeletal, interlocking grooves the album made way for watery Disintegration-era Cure style basslines on Panopticon. Where that one had a few close call moments during which the band veered too close to Tool territory, In the Absence of Truth flaunts its love for the nu-metal posterboys. Instead of the stiff rhythmic interplay of the past two records, we get loose, even somewhat sloppy riffs from a band that made its name trading in precise architecture. Alas, it feels like In the Absence of Truth finds the band both spinning its wheels and running out of ideas.
“Wrists of Kings” is a fine opening for the album, but it sounds dangerously close to being an outtake from Panopticon. Although it has a gradual build-up and eventual payoff similar to earlier Isis recordings, when a heavy lumbering riff comes plowing through it seems like it’s been wrecklessly draped over a carefully constructed frame. “Not in Rivers, But in Drops” has an initial bassline that wouldn’t sound out of place on any of Tool’s albums. The toms roll and pound in a tribal fashion, it spirals skyward with some rippling guitar lines but about halfway through it breaks into a pseudo-prog riff straight out of Lateralus. The opening bars of “Dulcinea” are almost the exact same as one of the bass riffs from bridge section of Tool’s “Schism.”
Here we are not even halfway through the album or the review of it and I’ve already had to name-check Maynard James Keenan and his boys at least three times. So much of the album is mired in a sameness that just can’t be shaken. Track for track, In the Absence of Truth plays out like some mediocre hybrid of Tool and Panopticon. Only the majestic “Holy Tears” truly stands out, a beacon of light in the darkness. It’s gut-wrenching riffage pile-drives the weaker elements of the album into the ground. Although it too could have easily fit on the band’s last album, it’s a welcome respite from the awkward changes on the rest of the album. “Firdous E Bareen” is a meandering post-rock instrumental that leads into “Garden of Light.” This song makes its ascension slowly with a crushing finale that makes it all seem a little bit worth it in the end.
I’ve replayed In the Absence of Truth countless times in the last month or two, trying to make sense of it all. Sadly, the once powerful group has fallen prey to the post-rock bug. There are so many possible directions the band could’ve taken its sound, it’s upsetting that this is the outcome. At a time when post-metal is beginning to fall into the same soft-loud-soft-loud pattern of rote “crescendo rock” that once-great groups like Mogwai used to navigate so deftly, Isis could have leveraged the genre into new territory but instead seem reluctant to make the necessary change.