Isis may have mellowed a bit over time, especially compared with the pummeling of its 1999 debut EP, but the more melodic, dynamic approach to its latest, "In the Absence of Truth," enhances the subtlety of the group's sludge metal. The album-opening "Wrists of Kings" allows its delicate details (a galloping, tribal percussion and an eerie organ line) to grow and build slowly before guitarist Aaron Turner's feverish moan joins in.
Turner's vocals could stand a little more mellowing; his cleaner singing is more captivating here than his demonic growls. His hypnotic chanting at the beginning of "Holy Tears" captures the song's mesmerizing essence more so than the monster-like snarl that ends the track. In fact, many of the songs would work equally well as pure instrumentals: After the sedate, ambient opening of "Over Root and Thorn," his gravelly howl distracts from the song's instrumental climax.
With Jesu, Justin Broadrick has fused the death metal of his previous bands (Napalm Death, Godflesh) with the fuzzy, droning sounds of shoegaze. The heavy soundscapes on the group's second album, "Conqueror," are so intense that Broadrick's trance-inducing repetition of "Try not to lose yourself" ("Weightless & Horizontal") may be both an instruction to the listener and a reminder to himself.
-- Catherine P. Lewis