If one were to come up to me at random some sunny day and ask me what my favorite word was, I would answer without hesitation. With all of the rich, immense amounts of vocabulary to choose from, I without a doubt would answer with one, simple word. However simple the word might seem, its implications and definition carry a greater purpose and sense of grandeur.
That word: epic.
So it should come as absolutely no surprise to anyone that I thoroughly enjoy the music made by Isis. Post metal is some of the heaviest music out there, but not in the context you'd might think of. One is literally driven into a massive, overbearing landscape, as pulsating guitars crush the eardrums of the listener, the sparse and sharp drums managing to pierce through the muddled mess of distorted strings. Furthermore, your landscape has a voice, a particularly harsh one that is difficult to hear at first.
Everything about Isis' 2004 release Panopticon
screams epic. The soundscapes, the clash and cohesion of the instruments, the length of the tracks, the title of the record, and the repetition and structure of the passages all give an air of a soul-crushing atmosphere, grand in stature. Hell, even the cover art, that satellite image of an expansive city overtaking everything that surrounds it, radiates epic.
As previously stated, the music further perpetuates the idea of an immense scale presented with Panopticon
So Did We
The opening seconds of the album are nothing short of outlandishly brutal. The guitar, distorted beyond belief, provides a foreground to Aaron Turner's harsh vocals. However, the strings become clean as the drums continue to accentuate the steady climb of the rhythm. Interludes of distortion coupled with melodic lead passages create an image of ungodly proportions. Once again that soul-dismantling distortion and further-crushing vocals return. This time they remain as the lead line interweaves itself through the mess. The guitar fades as the bass and drums take prominence, providing consolation to the psyche while clean leads build up, but to what" Well, we are not held to wait long, as gradually we are given the answer. Finally, an orgasm of guitar and bass mangles with the drums, fusing to create some manic beast of a sound, whose insatiable hunger briefly subsides upon the end of the song.
Gentle guitar notes introduce the listener to the second offering on Panopticon
. The repetition here, as elsewhere on the album, never seem to get old, paradoxically staying fresh and exciting. The riffs get louder as the beast seems to return. The pulsating of the guitars and drums lulls one into a sense of security, even as the beast unleashes the fury yet again upon them. It gets louder still from here, as Aaron's particular brand of screaming perfectly compliment the devastating guitar attack. They drop out completely as ambience pours into the mix and gives birth to some overdriven guitar lines. The drums and bass provide the perfect rhythm to the beast's reincarnation. Its strength is gathered as the guitar lines ascend into utter madness. This undulating completely overshadows all else and continues the climb, just when it seems the beast can no longer gather strength. Unleashed is the beast now as the guitar gives it the perfect soundtrack with which to tone with it. All sound ends suddenly comes to a head, rather conveniently
My personal favorite song starts off with some ambience and soft, mellow strings. This is the absolute best passage of the entire album. Any and all fear regarding the beast subsides as a hero presents himself, brave and true against the tides of hopelessness and inevitable defeat. Everything remains soft for a spell, even the previously harsh drums. The hero instills a sense of hope and resilience within the listener. The bass lulls one into a sense of security, as if you'll never fear again. Everything begins to get a little louder now. The courage is being built within the hero. His weapon glistens in the bare, green light. His journey begins as the guitar becomes steadier and less sparse. The makings of something truly amazing are felt as the vocals kick in, forming my absolute favorite of any song up to this point. The beast returns in full force as the hero willingly puts himself on the line for the listener's protection. Seeing this courage does not dissuade the beast immediately, but in the face of opposition it subsides for a while. An absolutely beautiful bass riff perfectly cements the courage and readiness to fight against oppression. An explosion of instruments takes place, and one cannot help but be moved by it. This is simply the highlight of the entire album for me. Once again the beast retreats, and the sound begins to give way unto that wonderfully melodic bass passage, layered with electronic ambience.
The previous song segues into this one, as ambience and guitar take the forefront early. A very bleak dread overcomes to listener. The beast has impressed upon you this feeling of utter defeat. This feeling doesn't remain, as a fantastic tandem of guitar and bass mesh with some manic drums. One cannot help but feel relaxed during this portion of the song. The beast makes a triumphant return as your sense of security is utterly washed away, even with the brave hero by your side. A faster, denser part allows for Turner's vocals, as the beast prepares for attack during the following section, a slightly cleaner one. Even the vocals seem more melodic. Full force on the part of the beast is unleashed, as the battle commences. Neither party seems to tire as the instruments clash to create a massive wall, shielding prying eyes from the battle.
The battle seems to reach a respite as bass mixes with the background noise from 'Wills Dissolve.' Heavily effect-laden guitar and drums enter the picture whilst the beast lashes out without so much as a warning. Fear not, for the hero never falters. Staccato guitar chords represent the strikes of sword and claw. The pitch remains tedious, as the listener looks on in fear and amazement. The beast unleashes all of its fury upon our hero as Aaron Turner's demoniac lyrics break through the chaos. A repetition of distortion gives way to some wonderful chord strums and cymbal splashes, for the beast is wounded. The brave warrior gains an upper hand as adrenaline is coursing through his veins. He wants this beast destroyed once and for all. He looks upon his enemy's face as the music continues its eternal climb. Pure contempt can be seen on the man's face. The drums lead the frenzy as the beast gains a second wind and re-emerges with the vigor he displayed earlier in the skirmish. Aaron's vocals make a return, and it is an absolutely euphoric moment. Or it would be, if a beast were not threatening your very life.
The battle rages on during this track, featuring heavy ambience, sharp drums, and Justin Chancellor of Tool
on bass. There is beauty to behold, as the music wonderfully compliments the primordial struggle of man versus beast. Sword swipes and claw strikes are all that can be seen, as the two beings seemingly merge as one. It is strange, as neither seem to need rest. The ascension of the atmospheric portion of the song is nothing short of chill-inducing, as it seems to stretch out into the very depths of the soul. The fight ends not, for just as the beast reaches a high of utter disdain, it subsides as it wounds the man. Blood pours from the wound during the unity of drums and keyboards. This truly sets a mood of grief, yet of faith as well. The screaming guitar in the background presents the listener, now drawn into the deep, deep recesses of fear, with the beasts cry of victory. The man is invincible. Blood runs, yet he never shows any signs of weakness. He looks the evil of the beast square in the face and spits, defiant. Time stands stagnant as all sound save for the screeching of the ambient noise rambles ever on. Make no mistake, for the final battle has yet to be raged.
Overdriven chords signal the beast's first blows to his opponent. All-out distortion ushers in the hero's rebuttal of the blade. The drums never let up, providing a war-rhythm unlike any other. A fuzzy lead gives under the weight of crushing chords, only to become victorious as a melodious line is delivered, such as the blow of a blade would pierce the rough flesh of a manic beast. A haunting echo in the background gives forth the beast's comeuppance. The tone of the chords being played is direct, sharp, and on point. All hell bursts forward. The vocals at this point are the album's most brutal. A beautiful menagerie of sound follows, with crashing cymbals and accented lead punch through, becoming most prominent. The beast never relents in the face of horrible wounds. The hero clashes with renewed vigor. The sound collapses any and all borders and becomes the most grand of all of the album’s passages. The beauty of the carnage being presented is as powerful as the battle being fought. Everything builds to a fabulous gushing-forth of pure uninhibited emotion. At this, the hero takes his most mighty swipe at the beast yet. It reaches the mark. The malevolent beast is slain. With that, the album finishes rather quickly, but that does not detract from its power.
I can honestly say that there is no flaw in this album for me. Every single passage, riff, lyric, and repetition holds within it awesome power and unnerving beauty. Time may behold a reason for contempt within me. For now, however, I will gape in unworthiness at this monumental record.
The utterly epic build-ups.
The subdued vocals.
The great instrumentation
I can’t find any.