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Album Review

If the glacial dynamics of previous metal and hardcore abstractions Celestial and Oceanic didn't prove that Isis was a heavy band in every sense, then Panopticon should do the trick. The title comes from 18th century philosopher Jeremy Bentham's prison design, which was later referenced by Michael Foucault in the 20th century. The idea is that a centrally placed guard or watcher can keep track of a large number of prisoners, and it excited Bentham and concerned Foucault. Heavy stuff for a metal band, huh? Both are quoted in the liner notes, bookended by aerial industrial photos laying out society's open sprawl. It fits perfectly with the epic music on the disc itself, which is as angular as post-rock forefathers Slint and as cosmically expansive as Neurosis, yet closer to the intensity of hardcore than either of them. Panopticon has the same cagey wall of noise as Oceanic, although the end product here is a little more polished. Aaron Turner is still howling and growling, but he's less reluctant to actually sing, just as the music is more inclined to stretch out into Pink Floyd's velvet atmospherics, which were a part of Oceanic, too, but just not as pronounced as they are here. Turner's lyrics are impenetrable, buried in the mix, but when they do pop through the haze of guitars and electronics they're appropriately weighty and tied to the omniscient paranoia of the title.

Customer Reviews

How guitars talk to each other when no humans are around

Without going overboard with adjectives and metaphors describing this record I'll just say it becomes a part of you. Or better yet, you become a part of it. It's a chord album. I told a friend a while back that this album sounds like how guitars would communicate with each other when no humans are around. There are no "look at me" solos, just a bunch of layered and blended chords, churning and churning there way through new territory. It's clear yet rusty at the same time. It's like Albert Einstein in velcro shoes. He's still Einstein, he just keeps it simple so the important stuff comes across. To close, there is no pretense on this record, just a unifying discourse in sonic revolt.

This album cannot be touched

Not to dismiss Isis' previous albums, because they are worth picking up, but Panopticon seems to be the band's pinnacle. Even when compared to Oceanic, which most consider their opus. Drawing from influences such as Neurosis and Mogwai, this album has so many layers, tension, and detail in their progressions that it can almost be too much. Which means it's that good. Aaron Turner's vocals go from utter vengeance to atmospheric (forgive me for the cliché) at times - within seconds. From beginning to end there is not one song that a connoisseur of music or curious listener should even think about skipping. If anyone is disappointed with this album or even this band, then all I can say is go back listening to music chained by boundaries.

Minimalist genius

This album is truly the pinnacle of minimalistic, methodical, intellectual metal. Panopticon is a slap in the face to the "turn it up to 11" attitude of modern day technically inclined precision. Isis is able to create atmospheric soundscapes that you can almost wade through like thick air, using simple cyclical riffing that builds methodically upon itself. Their music is articulate and un-pretentious. The added layers of electronic dissonance are what really put this album over the realm of simple quality musicianship, this is a stroke of genius that for the most part has been unique to Isis' sound. This album is a must have for fans of genres ranging from metal, to avante garde classical. Truly a stroke of genius.


Formed: 1997 in Boston, MA

Genre: Rock

Years Active: '90s, '00s, '10s

Although rooted heavy metal and the punk/hardcore aesthetic, Isis' music relies just as heavily on ambience, atmosphere, and tone as it does complexity and aggression. Not so much a band per se as a musical collective, the members of the Boston-based quintet layer their compositions with feedback, power chords, quiet/loud dynamics, and vocals that are sometimes shouted, frequently screamed, and occasionally sung. The band was formed by Hydra Head Records owner Aaron Turner, who was hoping to combine...
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