Friday, August 12, 2011

Isis - Panopticon (2004)

Panopticon is the first instance in which I have felt as if Isis's concept was coherent and well executed musically. There is a palpable sense of brooding and paranoia permeating this album, particularly on "In Fiction," which makes sense given the record's preoccupation with governmentality and panopticism. It may also be that I've spent too much time studying Discipline and Punish, but this is also the only concept album in Isis's catalog that has any sense of gravity for me, and it feels like a genuine attempt at discourse rather than a pretentious attempt to name drop Foucault.

Panopticon is also the first album in which more than half of the tracks stand out as being unique and interesting. "So Did We" is a solid opener that immediately shows off an even more refined approach to the wall of sound as well as clean vocals, which actually work very well. Turner has finally learned how to harmonize with the melody, and the clean vocals become more of an instrument than what is traditionally thought of as "singing."

"Backlit," the second track, starts off mellow, almost twangy, and has one of the simplest yet best bas riffs in the entire album, which is saying a lot given that the bass is outstanding throughout. "In Fiction," the only song to get a video from this album, features a slow but interesting build throughout its eight minute running time and is one of the standout tracks.

The real star, however, is "Grinning Mouths," the closing track. This song is by far the most ambitious in the band's catalog at this point, and the complexity serves to make the song incredibly engaging without seeming masturbatory. With a bit more variation in structure and tempo than other songs as well as more intricate layering of instruments, "Grinning Mouths" succeeds admirably as both a standout track as well as a closer that leaves me wanting more. This track highlights Turner's success at harmonizing with the melody and shows the bass kicking massive amounts of ass.

While the long songs and academic tone of the album will be a turn-off to many, fans of post-metal will find a lot to like here, and non-fans will likely also find a thing or two here to appreciate.

Verdict: Epic Win [9/10] (Yet under this mortal sun, We cannot hide ourselves.)

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