The best word to describe Isis is big
. Their songs are big Ė the shortest song on this album clocking in at over six and half minutes. Their music is big Ė lush, rolling soundscapes that crash down around you and slowly draw you in. And, with the release of Panopticon
in 2004, Isis have established themselves as big in the world of post-metal. If youíre a fan of Pelican, Red Sparowes, early Explosions In The Sky or later Neurosis, Iím willing to bet youíve got this. And if you donít, then you should. It wonít change the way you think about music, but itís a damn good listen.
I donít know a lot about early Isis, so I canít compare this to Oceanic
or anything. But Panopticon
stands just fine by itself. Isis make epic music, the kind of music that would fit a slow-motion battle scene in a film. The band are masters of gradual buildups and thick, dense explosions of sound, and this the format that most Isis songs follow. Simple but strangely intricate melodic passages wind around lightly distorted guitar parts and unassuming drumming to create music thatís almost like a wide, slow river, such is the quiet sense of contentment and relaxation that it conjures up.
It is worth mentioning at this point that Isis have not completely eschewed vocals in the style of traditional post-metal. There are moments where singing becomes the main focus, moments that are all the more precious for their rarity. The vocals take the form of either a fairly generic and average singing voice, or a kind of strained yell. In either case, the vocal melodies are invariably composed of long, drawn out notes Ė no quick singing here. It somehow adds to the overall epicness of the album.
The vocals are set fairly far back in the mix, with the emphasis being on the instrumental work. And in the end, this is what makes the album. Gradually shifting guitar melodies in repetitive strumming patterns alternate with more fragile, higher guitar lines. The drums are never really noticeable, but they tie everything together nicely. Itís definitely easy listening Ė itís very easy to just sit back and let the music wash over you. I almost never get bored listening to any track on Panopticon
, because Isis always abandon any given section before it gets old. The contrast of heavy, sludgy chords with breezier, more melodic passages is pulled off very, very well.
The songs all sound relatively similar in terms of length and structure, so a track-by-track wonít do anyone much good. Standout tracks for me include Backlit
, which has an amazingly relaxing opening instrumental passage, contrasting beautifully with the heavier section after it, Wills Dissolve
, which feels so much shorter than its 6:46, and Altered Course
, featuring a beautiful ambient section that continues for the entire second half of the song.
The one thing that takes this album from good to great is a factor common to most post-rock and metal. Panopticon
is flexible. You can spin the album and go about your daily business Ė Isis make great background music Ė or you can pay attention to exactly whatís going on, and youíll discover something new pretty much every time. Isis manage to be simple and intricate at the same time. Overall, Panopticon
is very good, and is capable of standing up to many listens without becoming boring. 4/5