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(59 Reviews)

Metal Album Reviews[RSS]

  • September 29, 2005 – The day I first bought “Panopticon”, I got home, popped it into my CD player, and pressed play. What followed was the most beautiful mix of cosmic atmospheric instrumentation and art-metal I have ever heard. So beautiful, that I was unable to remove the CD from my CD player for 5 days straight. 5 DAYS!!

    Anyway, there is no best or worst song on “Panopticon”; all are thought-provoking and at the same time heavy in their own right. But I do have a couple of gripes: “Wills Dissolve” should have been longer (the intro takes up over half the song), as after the last musical section of the song, the song ends abruptly. Another 2 or 3 minutes would have done the song well. Also, the drumbeat on “Altered Course” sounds rather robotic, at least for the first half of the song, and, most importantly, there should have been at least 2 more tracks on the album. Its a shame that the album ended after just 7 breathtaking tracks.

    I strongly suggest “Panopticon” for fans/lovers of Tool, Mastodon and Mogwai, it combines elements of all three bands. By the way, the CD still resides in my player, not coming out anytime soon.

    Posted on January 7, 2010 - Permalink - Buy Now
  • This is the first ISIS album I bought having never heard them before and being a listener of more mainstream type rock. This album is really good, awesome instrumentals. The singer gets a C- minus for singing ability, but the good thing is thats its 75% instrumental. I then bought Oceanic, unfortualtly he sings a LOT more on that album and with a awful death metal rahrahrah cookie monster voice which in my opinion ruins almost every song. If you never heard ISIS before, this is the album to get.
    Best songs: 1, 3, 6

    Posted on January 7, 2010 - Permalink - Buy Now
  • Just heard this band on the recent Tool tour. Was very intrigued by their sound, and while they didn’t really sound awesome live – given the number of instruments playing at the same time (or perhaps it was the venue) – I kind of figured out what they were trying to do. So I bought the album. I wasn’t dissapointed.

    Post-rock, post-metal, whatever you want to call it. I personally think that this is where rock meets metal. So if you like both, they you will like this album. It has clean and death vocals. Song structure is very progression oriented, with each song gradually building around an initial simple melody or tune or riff. They sound a little like Agalloch, with the latter being more metal oriented, but similar concept. People who like ISIS should try Agalloch’s The Mantle.

    I really like the first two songs a LOT. I have played them numerous times. The rest of the album is good, but not outstanding – that’s why I’ve given it 4 stars.

    As far as the vocals go, if you are a black/ambient metal-head, you won’t understand what people are talking about when they say they are ‘weak’. The guys growling on some tracks and singing clean on others. Granted he’s no classical singer or anything, but vocals here are ‘behind’ the music, and should be viewed as another instrument.

    This is definitely a must buy for those people who have listened to a lot of ambient oriented metal and like Tool and are looking for something new. Nice.

    Posted on January 7, 2010 - Permalink - Buy Now
  • With 2002’s release of Oceanic, I knew this band was headed for something really amazing, if that wasn’t it already. The way they had evolved from their previous albums kind of foreshadowed what their next album may bring. This album is significantly softer than previous releases, but I assure you it is still metal. You may have noticed Oceanic started this trend, with a little more clean vocals, some clean instrumental parts in the songs, and overall less total raw hardcore chaotic guitar madness. Panopticon continues with even more clean vocals as before. The clean vocals are rough and usually not so harmonious (but they have improved a lot since Oceanic), but they’re best that way. And Isis’ vocals are usually “behind” the music instead of “in front” of it, focusing more on the music. If you have Oceanic already, you probably know what I mean. Most of the album, like Oceanic, is instrumental (I’d say about three-fourths). This however has a lot more progressive, complex, unpredictable song structures, showcasing the band’s pure evolution and intense depth. Even though the guitars are generally not as heavy, or heavy for as long, they have so much more depth and intricacy. There are much more post-rock like clean instrumental passages, for a sort of post-metal sound.

    This vast masterpiece kicks off with “So Did We,” which may be a candidate for one of my top 25 or 50 songs ever (Not that I keep track). It is probably the best new song I’ve heard this year, and personally my favorite Isis song so far. It reminds you that Isis is still metal by starting off with a pounding heavy riff and sudden hardcore-style vocals. This continues for a very short time until the heaviness abruptly stops and makes way for one of the best instrumental passages Isis have created. After that, it gets heavier again with some pretty good clean vocals. Then for five more minutes it is nothing but instrumental, it keeps on changing and shifting and evolving… couldn’t be better. When you finally get to the end of this song, it sounds absolutely nothing like what it did when it started, which is how music should be.

    “Backlit” starts off very melodic and much different from anything Isis have done, and continues on that way; it’s a nice new direction for the band. There are a lot of clean vocals here that actually sound good and melodic, including a part where he keeps switching between hardcore and clean (probably the best part of the song). This song continues on with many instrumental parts with some exceptional melodies and the song ends with a bombardment of heaviness.

    “In Fiction” starts off very calmly, kind of similarly to “Weight” on Oceanic. It gradually adds rhythm and layers, and doesn’t have any vocals for the first 4 minutes. Then it starts coming alive with the addition of some clean vocals and keeps progressing amazingly. A very solid song. It cleverly shifts right into “Wills Dissolve” which also starts off calmly with a somewhat pensive and eerie feeling, then a very haunting, clean melody surfaces – also a very different direction for the band. Again, the song steadily unfolds until it has a full sound with vocals, and there are some pretty good, straightforward (for a change) clean vocals here.

    Again, the previous song switches to the next behind your back (a feature that always makes albums more epic, in my opinion). “Syndic Calls” is a very well-constructed song; the beginning of it just has that certain Isis vibe that I find once in a while. There is a small section with vocals and then a quite interesting instrumental part. When this song is almost over, there is a small amount of clean vocals over heavy guitars that come in at the perfect time to finish up the song. The buildup to this part is just magnificent. I have to say these are some of the most powerful of Aaron Turner’s clean vocals and probably the best he has done, even though it only lasts like 30 seconds. This particular song definitely goes by quickly, it definitely doesn’t seem like its 9 and a half minutes.

    “Altered Course” is an 10-minute instrumental which features Justin Chancellor from Tool on bass guitar. This song took a very, very long time to grow on me. I was very unimpressed by it at first. It seemed very random and directionless, but now i can sense the progression and intricate structure behind the song. There are some sweet riffs at the beginning, but the song slowly gets more ambient towards the end and fades out. Some may think it just drones on too long with very little change but I think it builds a great atmosphere. “Grinning Mouths” starts off suddenly and is another one without vocals for the first 4 minutes. The first 2 minutes or so are a heavy instrumental and then it turns softer with some great melodies. The riff that starts at around 4:45 continues on for the rest of the song, after a while the vocals are added, and this riff keeps getting heavier and faster until it collapses upon itself really ending the album with a bang.

    I think fans of Tool who aren’t into much more obscure music yet would really enjoy Isis, this album especially. They have some similarities to Tool (and have a band member playing on this album) and are a few notches on the heavier side. I also think fans of Godspeed you Black Emperor, who are also into other metal, would really appreciate this album. If you’ve been a fan of Isis for a long time and said they have a lot of potential… this is where that potential has lead them. All the potential has been bundled up and released on this album. They have naturally evolved, most bands do, I think for the better. Now, for the big question: better than Oceanic? Well, it’s extremely hard to say. Some people love Oceanic and hate this. I haven’t really seen that situation reversed either. But a lot of people like both. Personally, I think Panopticon is a little better but it’s still hard to say at this point.

    Posted on January 7, 2010 - Permalink - Buy Now
  • If Isis’s Oceanic established the band as an important and distinctive figure in the metal world, Panopticon is their effort to expand further outside the boundaries of that world, and it’s a mighty successful one at that. If I had to come up with some frames of reference, I suppose I’d say Panopticon combines the lofty spiritual ambitions of Tool, the cosmic instrumental sound of Mogwai, and (at times) the plodding heaviness of Mastodon, but Isis still offer up a musical vision of their very own. Everything about this album is epic: epic music, epic vocals, epic arrangements, and above all epic song lengths. These guys are clearly out to test the listener’s attention span, as this seven-track outing clocks in at about an hour. Compare this to Pig Destroyer’s latest effort, at 21 tracks covering about 32 minutes, and you can see you’re in for a harrowing listen.

    Befitting their continued evolution, Panopticon sees Isis getting even better at tempering their metallic fury with some heavy doses of mellowness. It’s hardly unprecedented for heavy bands to inject extended passages of relative quiet into their music (see Opeth), but Isis are still notable for just how seemlessly they manage to mix such disparate elements. Their songs don’t just shift arbitrarily from one sound to another; they shrink and recede from heavy passages to lighter ones and back, managing to maintain a consistent mood whether they’re coasting over you or pounding you over the head. Much like Oceanic, while Panopticon is divided into separate tracks, it’s essentially one extended atmospheric piece, with a freeform structure that’s even more conducive to exploration and experimentation than its predecessor. Although Panopticon is still rather heavy, Isis have now all but abandoned their Neurosis-style depression-metal sound for a looser, more grandiose feel, and I must say it suits them quite well.

    Since Panopticon isn’t as heavy overall as its predecessor, it stands to reason that Aaron Turner’s vocal intensity would have to be adjusted to match, and he does indeed take it down a notch here. It’s obvious that Isis are aiming for a more versatile and far-reaching sound, and Aaron helps them along here by expanding his range beyond his typical monotone. The cavernous, thudding howl that he used to such great effect on Oceanic is still in evidence at some points, but Aaron also mixes in plenty of cleaner, even melodic, vocals. On the whole they’re pretty solid if unspectacular, although Isis’s vocals have always been more about complementing the music than standing on their own anyway.

    Of course, since Panopticon is even more predominantly instrumental than Oceanic, the vocals typically take a backseat anyway. Their dual-guitar assault is usually front and center, which is as it should be, as Panopticon delivers some of the most daunting guitar work in recent memory. While there are some tricky polyrhythms to be found here, Isis’s guitar sound is more about atmosphere than anything else, with the two axes intertwining perfectly to create a vast wash of sound highlighted by a mix of thunderous riffs and fragile tonalities.
    The drumming is a plus as well, as it’s rather technical but more about furthering the overall atmosphere than anything else. At times it even borders on metronomic, which would normally be something of a downer, but here it only adds to the hypnotic feel that the guitars and vocals create. Even the bass is represented here by a nice, loping rumble, which would be notable even if only for the fact that so much of this genre lacks bass presence.

    Although I give this album a hearty recommendation, I should note that it’s not for everyone. Its sustained mood and persistently mid-tempo pace will certainly be viewed as captivating by some, and as boring by others, which isn’t entirely unreasonable. As we’ve already seen on this page, some people simply won’t see the big deal about an hour-long album that never seems to change speed. That said, if you’re looking for something different, something nuanced, something that’s heavy but not in the traditional “metal” manner, you can do a lot worse than Panopticon. This one is a must for the adventurous rivothead.

    Posted on January 6, 2010 - Permalink - Buy Now