To call it intense cheapens the word. To criticize a section of “Over Root and Thorn” for excessiveness is relative; its slow, meticulous build lasts a long time, but that’s the intention, and the catharsis, a crushing, syncopated steel sound wall, is worth the delay. A fair, deserved criticism, then, of In the Absence of Truth, Isis’s fourth LP, is that there is a tonal, melodic uniformity that results in a kind of set-piece album rather than one with several distinct expressions.
But taken as such, In the Absence of Truth is in many ways a masterpiece of strategy and precision. Whereas many of their metal-gaze contemporaries traffic in a kind of glacial, cerebral ambiance often at the listener’s expense, Isis gives credence to the genre’s orthodoxy: With the same acute sense of pace and build, the album achieves uncompromising beauty that projects rather than suffocates.
When the layered ambiance becomes too inward (“Dulcinea”), the negative result is not one of self-indulgence but of potential not fully met. But “Wrists of Kings,” “1,000 Shards” and “Firdous E Bareen” are crystalline in their opaque, droning power and melody. And “Holy Tears,” which expresses both solitude and an impending, crushing urgency belying its seven-minutes, reveals the true, outward strength of Isis. Theirs is music brimming over with passion first explored, then exploded.