Review Summary: The Crown Gem of the Post Metal Titans.It’s like being crushed under weight, drowned under water, suffocating in fog. There is almost a feeling of claustrophobia as this behemoth of an album slowly turns its gears. The sheer heaviness of its sound is massive; however beyond the chains that tie the listener down there is an unmistakable feeling of floating, of freedom. Asphyxiating, majestic, colossal. Epic. All of these words come to mind when trying to describe the journey that ISIS have created, however none truly do it justice. All seeing, all knowing, and all encompassing, embrace the storm that is Panopticon.
And the experience begins..
How can I possibly describe the real sound of Panopticon
? As aforementioned, its sound is simply gigantic. With its flawless production and brilliant instrumentals, the CD completely overtakes the listener. Many different emotions course through it, largely through the brilliant soundscapes that convey both madness and beauty. Throughout Panopticon
there are smooth transitions between crushing brutality, monolithic walls of sound that batter the listener, and gorgeous soundscapes which only help to lull him into a state of relaxation and drop his guard. The music builds upon itself, towering structures of sound that feel as if they could break and crumble at any moment. And like all great Post Metal, eventually they do. Panopticon
is a slow burner in every sense of the word, but its climactic payloads define the utterly majestic sound that ISIS possesses; instruments colliding with one another in a chaotic frenzy, somehow managing to weave together and create one consistent sound.
In order to create such a unique and ambitious album, the band members obviously had to each contribute a fair amount of skill. Although not technically amazing, ISIS’s members each bring an important element of the band’s sound to the table. The whole CD is strangely rhythmic, which can be largely attributed to the drumming. Through Panopticon
, the drums are perfectly mic’d and produced, sounding crystal clear and holding the beat even during the most chaotic sections. Just listen to a track like Altered Course
, where the entire song literally rides the drumming. The patterns are by no means difficult, but they are simply hypnotic and allow the other instruments to build on them perfectly. Atop the ever present drums are layers and layers of delay soaked guitars, spiraling around one another like birds in flight. The quiet clean sections are superbly orchestrated, making great use of arpeggios and droning single note lines. When the songs take a heavier turn, massive walls of sound batter the listener and drag them under the tides of distortion, caught in the undertow that they create. The band’s bassist is brilliant as well, very rarely choosing to simply follow the guitars. He plays high up on the neck, crafting looping rhythms over which the guitars can soar. Although ISIS relies heavily on their instrumentals, Aaron Turner’s voice gives them even more of a unique sound. He has two main vocal styles, a soft and deep singing voice that is used in the album’s clean sections; and a brutal roar that rips through the mountains of distortion. Both styles are executed fantastically, with the soothing vocals flawlessly adding to the atmosphere of the soft ambient sections; and the heavier vocals riding atop slamming guitar riffs. Additionally, the vocals are produced and mixed perfectly with the band. They are mixed behind the rest of the group, whereas most vocals are mixed up front, and therefore they never overpower the rest of the band. Since they are mixed so far back, they almost become another instrument themselves, and never detract from the experience. At its foundation, ISIS is all about its rhythmic core. It is from these basic rhythms that they are able to seduce the listener into such captivating climaxes, and although the music is not overly technical, the utter brilliance of the band is in how they all come together to create such expressive music.
As far as individual tracks go, Panopticon
is really meant to be listened to as a whole. It has so many different valleys and peaks, it traverses so many different textures and sounds. However, there are several standouts from the album; the first of which being In Fiction
. It is an excellent example of ISIS’s sound, because it displays all the different aspects of their style. Beginning with soft ambience, it slowly builds till a crashing riff comes in at the five minute mark. Hypnotic vocals distract the listener from the upcoming fury, and before they even know what has happened the song has already settled back into a relaxed calm. Thankfully, the song is far from over, and continues to build itself up again until exploding into one of the most powerful moments on the album. A single note line builds until it is joined by several other guitars, high octaves screeching over eachother as the bass gallops under them. The drums keep everything in sync, keeping it form collapsing unto itself even though it feels like all the strings are coming loose. The entire section absolutely soars, obliterating common musical barriers to convey absolute beauty, beauty which screams with both desperation and hope. Another obvious standout is the closing track, Grinning Mouths
. It is a slow climb to the final peak of Panopticon
, where harsh growls deteriorate into a repeated single not line, on which an entire three minute movement is conducted. Explosive power chords tear into eachother as the music becomes more clustered and powerful; a wonderful closer to the album.
is far more than just a CD, far more than something that is meant to entertain listeners. It is a journey, a trip that pulls its listener in and captivates them. An epic display of incredible songwriting and instrumental talent, that is as shockingly human as it is moving. So many emotions course through this recording, fear, despair, aggression, and anticipation. In reality, a Panopticon is a geometric equation, common in prisons, that allows surveillance of prisoners without them over knowing they are being watched. Although at first it may seem that Panopticon
traps its listener, nothing could be further from the truth, for once you embrace its crushing nature, it offers insight and freedom like few other albums can. A true classic.