Review Summary: Post-metal pioneers stunning masterpiece
Panopticon is the fifth album from LA based post metal visionaries, Isis, bringing with it a similar vibe to previous effort Oceanic, but capitalising on this vibe to produce one of the most perfect albums of the 21st century.
The main theme of the album is focused around philosopher Jeremy Bentham’s idea of a Panopticon prison, a tall central tower that allows the guards to observe inmates from the tower with the idea that the prisoners don’t know if they are being watched or not. Musically, this album incorporates frantic nods to Neurosis, especially on the heavier parts of the album which are intertwined with calmer more subtle parts to make the perfect mix of dynamics. Vocalist and guitarist Aaron Turner has created an album with many different emotions, from the desolate, monolithically heavy intro of “So Did We” coupled with his bloodcurdling harsh vocals which are capable of scaring even the bogeyman away, to the beautiful serene prettiness of “Backlit “with its delicate strings, singing like they’re speaking a language of their own. This album promises twists and turns throughout the whole of its fifty-nine minute duration.
An important point to note is that this album is deep, mainly due to the fact that there are not a whole lot of vocals, thus enabling the music to capture you in its spell. For instance, the gorgeous synths that are prevalent throughout the album add an extra dimension to the music, often times making it otherworldly. On the track “Altered Course” the six and a half minute outro is perfect, as Isis manage to add delicate layer over delicate layer, allowing them to produce the perfect texture needed to convey this incredibly powerful and melancholic movement. Props must go to Jeff Caxide, the bassist, for making the bass guitar so important especially towards the end of “Wills Dissolve” in which the bass compliments the high shrieks of the guitar creating an eargasmic riff sure to make your ears bleed but in a good way.
The final track of the album, “Grinning Mouths” pays tributes to the *** your pants heaviness Isis have created, with a defiant riff conjured up in the form of crushing distortion, Aaron Turner’s clean and almost meditative vocals over top make an excellent end to an album that had already paved its way into the history books within its first few seconds. Numerous amazing moments like this litter this album, as it’s hard not to mention the spine-tingling climax of “In Fiction” which could contend for the ultimate head banging moment ever.
In a nutshell, very few albums have had the power to leave a stunning and overwhelming legacy to music itself, the songs are like different and ever-changing characters, containing intricacies no one could pick out on first listen. This album is a stunning example of how post-metal should challenge the listener, and to plunge them into sonic depths that are undiscovered. Magnificent.