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Isis - Panopticon (Cover Artwork)

Isis

Isis: PanopticonPanopticon (2004)
Ipecac Recordings

Reviewer Rating: 4
User Rating:


Contributed by: AubinAubin
(others by this writer | submit your own)

It would be impossible to talk about Isis without talking about their musical, if not literal roots. Like Neurosis, with whom they share more than a postfix, the band began playing heavy post-hardcore (on Mosquito Control and Pain of Mind, respectively) but soon evolved into more sonically expan.
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It would be impossible to talk about Isis without talking about their musical, if not literal roots. Like Neurosis, with whom they share more than a postfix, the band began playing heavy post-hardcore (on Mosquito Control and Pain of Mind, respectively) but soon evolved into more sonically expansive territory. While Neurosis ventured down a road of industrial and tribal drumming overlayed with distorted walls of sound, Isis took a slightly different path, incorporating more melodic, even orchestral composition styles.

With Oceanic, their first record for Mike Patton's Ipecac label, the band finally delivered on the promise of their SGNL 05 and Celestial recordings; deriving as much from post-hardcore and metal as they did from iconic instrumental acts like Sigur Ros and Mono. The record was an epic, sprawling achievement fully deserving of its name. Tracks running an average of eight minutes, and structured more like chapters in a sprawling hour long novel than a conventional record. Even more surprising was its beginning familiarity with melodic flourishes and even the angelic vocals of Ayl Noar and Maria Christopher who provide the hypnotic accompaniments to Aaron Turners harsh bark on "The Beginning and the End" and "Weight."

In the intermittent years, Turner has seen the release of records from three separate side projects, in the form of his alternately ambient and skull-crushing Old Man Gloom, his psychedelic House of Low Culture and his experimental Lotus Eaters. No one could really blame him if the follow up to Oceanic took a few more years, and yet, late in 2004, we see the release of Panopticon.

Based loosely on an new type of prison "invented" by Jeremy Bentham in the 18th century who wrote that the prison would convey on the prisoner the "sentiment of an invisible omniscience1" It was further placed in political context by the outspoken neo-Marxist French media critic and philosopher Michele Foucault, who famously explained that the panopticon:

...arranges spatial unities that make it possible to see constantly and to recognize immediately. In short, it reverses the principle of the dungeon; or rather of its three functions - to enclose, to deprive of light and to hide - it preserves only the first and eliminates the other two. Full lighting and the eye of a supervisor capture better than darkness, which ultimately protected. Visibility is a trap.2
which, more simply put, is the argument that the panopticon facilitates the total information awareness which informs complete population control used in prisons and eventually the army, the school and the factory. The goal being to ensure a fully functioning and efficient society with complete subservience - and more importantly - willingness to cooperate with power. This, significantly more constructivist view of society is a fairly sharp departure from the conventional left=good, right=bad so popular in the music community and in many ways, imparts the complex and nuanced approach Isis takes to its music.

The opening track, So Did We is more reflective of this dynamic and complex approach; beginning with Turner screaming over some heavy riffing before breaking down into a slowly growing thunderstorm at the 30 second mark. It flows forward, gradually taking on more baggage and sound before reaching a set of individual peaks before hitting it's soaring climax. The structure of repeating themes with an underlying "storyline" is more like the classical Aristotelean narrative3 than a song; with no conventional verses, choruses or anything else familiar to be found.

The next track, Backlit - already a favorite of many Isis fans - is the most startling shift for the band from their prior material, certainly their most instrumentally lush and melodic and combined one of Turners few forays into clean, soaring vocals. And in many ways, the track demonstrates what is so different about Isis' Panopticon. As a whole, the record is imparted with a completely new melodic sense, and while melodies were often buried - to great effect, albeit - under walls of noise on previous recordings, Panopticon places them front and center, making this certainly their most friendly and accessible work to date, if you can get past the seven or eight minute songs of course.

All those accomplishments aside, the only flaw that I found in this otherwise exemplary recording was the less engrossing overall structure of the record; while Oceanic was, as I mentioned earlier, novel like in its structure with each chapter forming an overall arc, Panopticon is more like a series of short stories - disconnected, perhaps - but clearly penned by the same hand.

That fairly nit-picky complaint aside, while this record demands a great deal from the listener - attention and patience, certainly - those who give it a chance will find a band that is truly special, and manages to consistently exceed expectations.

1 ?? Benthan, Jeremy The Panopticon Writings (London: Verso, 1995), pp. 29-95
2 ?? Foucault, Michel Discipline & Punish: The Birth of the Prison (New York: Vintage Books 1995) pp. 195-228
3 ?? Aristotle Poetics (New York: Hill & Wang 1961)

 

 
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Fine Print: The following comments are owned by whoever posted them. We are not respon sible for them in any way. Seriously.
TommyPickles (April 14, 2008)

Sick fucking album.

Mixhail (July 6, 2006)

Better than Oceanic. The perfect atmospheric album , along with Explosions In The Sky's "The Earth is not a Cold, Dead Place" and Sigur Ros's "()"

Syndic Calls = best Isis song ever, and in the top 3 for greatest buildups.

Anonymous (March 24, 2006)

i really dig this

MrAwesome (July 26, 2005)

probably the third best isis album and god damn that persons right. ISIS = GREATEST BAND EVER. look only one dude gave it a bad review but he doesnt count cause he must be a total packer

convergetosilence (December 10, 2004)

ISIS...Uhhhh...three words come to mind-Best Band Ever

Anonymous (November 5, 2004)

waaa thaaa fuuuu? you let your cherished convictions compramise all your reviews, and you gain a cult following? if the internet has achieved one thing (thats IF...) its a home for the stupid. Get up off the floor, read the review again, then tell me what youve learnt about the album.

Anonymous (October 26, 2004)

"Panoptic" was the best Discordance Axis song ever.

-ken

aubin (October 23, 2004)

"And you postfix is a verb and the letters "is" don't count as a suffix, let alone warrant a comment about the trivial similarities between the name ISIS and the name Nuerosis."

My dictionary defines it as a verb, noun and adjective.

postfix

n : an affix that is added at the end of the word

affix

n : one or more letters or syllables added at the end of a word

"First off, this review only seems amazing to those who bought into the psuedo-intelectual BS. The only people that bought into the psuedo-intellectual BS are the same people that bought into this albums psuedo-intellectualism. [...] it just means that author/reviewer/lyricist is capable of regurgitating genius"

Novelty is not the only characteristic that matters. The foundation of academic inquiry is to acknowledge those who came before you. Foucault didn't invent the panopticon, but he expanded on it by applying it to his political analysis, just like post-modernists didn't invent the deconstruction of narrative; Aristotle did it millenia ago.

Anonymous (October 22, 2004)

this review may not be "genius" (although it is VERY good), but at least it's raised, if only temporarily, the level of analysis on this site to something beyond the norm

-notaclevername

Anonymous (October 22, 2004)

First off, this review only seems amazing to those who bought into the psuedo-intelectual BS. The only people that bought into the psuedo-intellectual BS are the same people that bought into this albums psuedo-intellectualism. These aren't lofty constructivist ideas, this is stuff that is discussed in political science and sociology classes in every college in the U.S., anyone paying attention could put this professorial rhetoric in an album (or a record review), that doesn't make it genius, it just means that author/reviewer/lyricist is capable of regurgitating genius. Genius is not simply the demonstration that these cats went to college.

And you postfix is a verb and the letters "is" don't count as a suffix, let alone warrant a comment about the trivial similarities between the name ISIS and the name Nuerosis.

Anonymous (October 22, 2004)

Does anyone here have a really nice pork chop recipe?

kenjamin (October 21, 2004)

I believe Aubin's review of Flight and a Crash remains the best. Score's for that.

Anonymous (October 21, 2004)

Huh. Someone throws in sources and it's the most amazing album review ever?

Bro, postfix should be used as a fuckin' verb.

Anonymous (October 21, 2004)

aubin, dude. incredible review. and an incredible album.

-brent

Anonymous (October 21, 2004)

Punknews.edu!

johnnydanger (October 20, 2004)

best review on this site. amazing record too.

Anonymous (October 20, 2004)

There are not enough stars to properly score this album...It's that good. Blows away Oceanic, and that's a huge feat.

slippy (October 20, 2004)

Can't wait to hear this, great great review Aubin.

Anonymous (October 20, 2004)

Aubin really should be reviewing albums for a living. He is so damn good.

Anonymous (October 20, 2004)

Can't wait to grab this album and damn, this might be the best review I have ever read on this site.

PorkPie (October 20, 2004)

this album is incredible.

FortyMinutesWest (October 20, 2004)

Damn, this is amazing stuff.

Fuzzy (October 20, 2004)

This is a great review. Even though I won't be picking this album up, Aubin, this is literature.

Anonymous (October 20, 2004)

i love this album, have to get myself their old release now

Jesse (October 19, 2004)

In Europe, soccer is called football.

Just like in everywhere else in the world.

hungryjoe (October 19, 2004)

I expected big things out of this album, and it didn't disappoint.
"Altered Course" was a bit too Cave In-ish though. It doesn't quite fit in the album.

Anonymous (October 19, 2004)

Mosquito Coast? I believe you mean Mosquito Control. How you could get that wrong baffles me.

Anonymous (October 19, 2004)

let's be absolutely clear on this: european's play soccer, not football.

Daveid (October 19, 2004)

Aubin for prez in 2008!

Anonymous (October 19, 2004)

let's be clear on one thing. ISIS plays metal, not post-hardcore.

and everything they do is great.

Jesse (October 19, 2004)

Boo for thinking! Boo!

You and your smartness making the rest of us look bad...Boo!

You and your research...bah...the future is in plastics! Not research! PLASTICS!

Score is for the review.

colin (October 19, 2004)

"oceanic" was amazing and i haven't heard this yet. i will surely pick it up.

maverick (October 19, 2004)

Jesus christ, I just read a term paper.

A really, really fucking good term paper, but still -- footnotes? I graduated college to stop having to look at this stuff!

[Seriously, awesome review, Aubin.]

-Scott

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