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95 of 98 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Post-metal, anyone?
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...
Published on November 9, 2004 by Wheelchair Assassin

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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Isis deliver more of the same
On Panopticon, Isis deliver more of the same, and that inevitably prompts the question of whether one should fault them or praise them for doing so.

The Isis fan who fell in love with Oceanic will likely fall in love with Isis once again on Panopticon. The late Neurosis-esque midtempo dynamic builds and attention to gorgeous melody are all here, complete with...
Published on January 9, 2005 by The Almighty Sommy


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95 of 98 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Post-metal, anyone?, November 9, 2004
By 
Wheelchair Assassin (The Great Concavity) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Panopticon (Audio CD)
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.
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36 of 39 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Isis Shines On., November 1, 2004
By 
IcemanJ (Louisville, KY, USA) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)   
This review is from: Panopticon (Audio CD)
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.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Epic, October 31, 2006
By 
HallofGods (Edgewater, NJ United States) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Panopticon (Audio CD)
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.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I am in love., October 5, 2005
This review is from: Panopticon (Audio CD)
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.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Awesome - much better than Oceanic, October 21, 2006
By 
timothy fisher (wayne, NJ United States) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Panopticon (Audio CD)
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
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Massive..., January 9, 2007
This review is from: Panopticon (Audio CD)
So, Panopticon arrives in the mail along with around twenty other albums that were purchased around various recommendations that were made in passing by a few fellow forum-goers. Never having heard the band before and not having much of an idea what to expect, I rip away the plastic wrap, pop the disc into my DVD drive, rip it, and get to listening.

For the next hour, I would be subject to the aural equivalent of a majestic ocean body slowly swallowing the very foundations of the Earth, leaving in its wake a vast landscape of weeping sorrow and glimmering hope. That magnificent and devastating ocean has a name - and that name is Isis.

Now, I don't have much of a clue as to where to go with this thing. Isis is not a hard band to describe, but it is very difficult to truly capture the essence of the sounds that extend from their instruments. Their music is a mostly instrumental, atmospheric, shifting beast that at times seems to extend out from your speakers and develop a sense of physical mass. This is heavy music... not the kind of heavy that slams you against the wall and leaves you with a splintered skull, but the kind of heavy that embraces and envelops you, weighs down on your very senses, and forcefully sweeps you away into the dark unknown. There are no double-bass runs, there are no blast beats, there are no solos, there are no "riffs"; there are only dense soundscapes littered with kinetic walls of aural energy, ambient stretches of space, and gently ringing guitars that embody the calm before the storm and make you welcome the inevitable devastation that is surely forthcoming.

The perfect display of all these things is in the opening track, "So Did We". The song comes in with a slow, simple drum pattern and reasonably heavy guitars that are soon joined by Aaron Turner's distant, hardcore-ish yells. Turner is surprisingly unobtrusive, so people who have an aversion to this kind of vocal style shouldn't have much to fear. Regardless, this only goes on for around thirty seconds before the vocals cut out, the distortion disappears, and twin guitars come in with interweaving melodies that continue onwards, shifting, morphing, and changing until a bit past the two minute mark, where the music lapses back to a sound similar to the introductory passage. At three minutes, one guitar takes on a sort of sludgy droning, while the other rings clearly in the forefront, creating an eerie and moving aural scene. Soon, the droning transforms into a wash of noisy guitar atmospherics that blend smoothly into the background, while the tranquil reverberations retain their prominence in the foreground. At just under four minutes, the background guitar suddenly comes to the front and quickly diminishes into a short stretch of feedback, before fading out and being replaced once again by clean twin guitar tapestries that weave in and out of each other to create a melancholy, sorrow-filled stretch of airy music that evolves and builds on itself until just past the six minute mark. At this point, everything hits a climax and explodes into a wall of sound so enormous that it escapes from your headphones, clings to your walls, and begins to slowly close in on you from the outside, the weeping guitars and powerful cymbal washes enveloping you so wholly that you cannot help but to let go and lose yourself in the vastness of it all. It's utterly massive, soul crushing music. I cannot express enough the kind of impact the last few minutes of this song has on me. It's unreal. Indescribable. If you only hear one Isis song in your life, hear this one.

...and that, to one degree or another, is the sound of Isis. Unfortunately, this is the absolute high point of the album... and it's a shame that the band hits their peak so early. However, don't take that the wrong way. The rest of the album maintains a consistent and dynamic flow of quality, it just never really surpasses the celestial beauty and power of "So Did We" (save for possibly "In Fiction", which is also absolutely tremendous).

The instrumentation across Panopticon is very minimalistic. There is no doubt in my mind that the guys in Isis can play should the need arise, but all the sounds on this album lend to the creation of mood and atmosphere, to the creation of the overbearing leviathan that forebodes the devastation and reconstruction of our modern musical landscape. It's so refreshing in today's mess of musical superficiality to see a bunch of young guys get up on a stage and channel this kind of artistic energy amongst themselves. I applaud them for that.

Essential recording. Absolutely essential.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Humbling Sonic Explorations, July 24, 2006
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This review is from: Panopticon (Audio CD)
Understand a few things about me as a musician and listener. I am open minded but like most people have certain likes and dislikes in various aesthetics.

Some of these dislikes include Death and Black Metal singing, singing that is mixed so low that whatever is said doesn't make sense and most of all, voices that register 11 on a scale of 1-10 on the high testosterone gauge.

I have nothing against vocals, I have nothing against instrumentals nor bands that follow either style of music. Had you told me I would give five stars to a wailing, howling, near-incoherently mixed voice I'd have objected with a good amount of laughter.

I should add that I passed on other Isis CDs because I heard that kind of vocal style, figuring I'd give this seemingly different style release a shot as I like post rock / experimental and enjoy some metal styles, particularly when they stray from traditional formulaic, mic stand humping, vocalizing to please fictional women but appeal to 17 year old boys that think women get off on that.

Think hair metal bands and various, Slayer, Pantera, Ministry, et al vocal stylings.

I purchased Panopticon by Isis on speculation, based on the (often typical) misleading 30 second listens per song at Amazon. Isis piqued my curiosity although some reviews turned out to be incredibly helpful, adding detail that I'd never have guessed otherwise.

If you like the post rock / experimental sound bytes and think you're going to hear some "Explosions in the Sky" style work, rest assured there will be explosions, but of quite a different nature. And yet, I think people who enjoy EITS might find a great deal to apppreciate on Panopticon.

Regarding the vocals. Forget the lyrics; I'm not saying they aren't good. I couldn't make them out, but I found by the end of the first song I didn't really care. They made for great atmosphere.

In fact, I like that there isn't a traditional verse-chorus-verse-chorus-middle eight structure to the vocals, nor the instrumental work.

The depth and bredth of the guitar and bass are wonderful to listen to. Beyond the use of instruments as a means of conveyance and the song structures as a means of development with tension and release there is another element that makes many of the songs on Panopticon more than good.

The voice works as another instrument which has it's own fair share of change in intensity. Here we find everything from moderate sections that support the music to various abrasive wails as good as anything you will listen to, and again, I stress, I prefer melodic vocals without the gutteral growl sometimes found on this album.

And yet, I do not think this album would reach the quality it does without them.

Nor would Isis be half as interesting if they were as laid back as many of the post rock guitar bands.

There were many times the squelch of metallic timbres were capable of bringing me out of the trance like structures and scaring the daylights out of me.

Not because the album is scary, but because the unexpected is so effective, and there are many times the louder it gets you do expect it and would be let down without the pounding, shattering feeling you are left with.

A nod goes to the rhythm section which interweaves some incredible counterpoint and somewhat progressive metal intervals.

Another nice use of bass and drums are found in the song structures where the beats will shift to the focus of the song, leaving the guitars as the background.

This is an extreme album with genre bending qualities that make me enjoy some areas of metal I otherwise have no use for. The aggression found in this heady mix of music makes, as another reviewer noted, "post metal".

There is a tremendous amount of middle ground on this CD which Isis is to be complimented on. It is also THE album I would point friends towards to show them music has a bright future.

It's an experiment worth trying. I'm glad I did.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A rare combination of agression, beauty, and chilling ambiance., June 11, 2006
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This review is from: Panopticon (Audio CD)
Isis is not hardcore. Nor are they metal, ambient, or instrumental rock. That said, over the past eight years or so they have moved from being droning, down-tuned noise-influenced hardcore to their current manifestation as genre-defying rock and roll experimentalists. One reviewer has called them `post-metal,' and perhaps that is the most realistic category Isis can fit into. They scream, they are heavy, and they are aggressive. But they are also incredibly beautiful, subtly so, and their music is layered like a impressionist's canvas; five people will hear five different aural landscapes. Their music has more dynamics than most any other hardcore or metal band, dynamics that range from near-silent ambience to pulse-raising roars from the guitars and tribal stomps from the drums. Isis play within a genre that, despite its aggressive, seemingly anti-mainstream edge, manages to garner a wide fan base.

"Panopticon" is the logical continuation of the breathtaking "Oceanic." With the backing of genius Matt Bayles, whose engineering work is truly remarkable, Isis can do no wrong. To truly appreciate the added effects that Bayles utilized on the production--those moments of subtle ambience (`subtle' is perhaps the most apt word when it comes to Isis, which is part of their grandeur) and subdued layering (`subdued' is also a good word)--listen to this album with some decent headphones. You'll be amazed. "Panopticon" has more moments of calm than does "Oceanic," and the vocals lean toward a more growled melody than the angry barks running throughout the latter album, but certainly the barks are still there on the former. Rhythmically speaking "Panopticon" is a complex, dense release. The interplay between the guitars, the bass, and the drums is calculated and adds a unique dimension to the album's song writing. Isis does what they do so well that I can't think of any serious criticisms, except that there aren't more songs on the disc.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars More spacey than "Oceanic.", November 29, 2004
By 
D. Knouse (vancouver, washington United States) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
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This review is from: Panopticon (Audio CD)
4.5 stars. First off, let me write that I loved Isis' previous album, "Oceanic." I knew that a new album from Isis was inevitably going to be compared to that masterwork, regardless of my open-minded intentions. Therefore... "Panopticon" is yet another continuance album for this remarkable band, where they open up the music even further than "Oceanic," using it as a base to propel themselves forward, but with less aggressive riffs and some added clean vocals. I was entirely neutral about the vocals on "Oceanic" but the clean vocals on "Panopticon" mixed in with the usual hoarse shouting is actually a welcome varience, albeit only a subtle one. The music here reveals some complex songwriting that is almost unapparent upon initial spins of the CD. This is going to be one of those fine albums that becomes more interesting the more I hear it, the spacey textures and moody variations in tempo unveiled with each new measure. What I do miss, what was a mild disappointment, was that the guitars are not nearly as much a driving force here as they were on "Oceanic." But the music that is here is pure Isis, tilting to the lunatic fringe of space rock on occasion, but nonetheless compelling in its ambition. This band continues to break through conventional boundaries of hard rock and heavy metal and has produced yet another groundbreaking release. Recommended.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Panopticon (2004) review, March 7, 2014
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This review is from: Panopticon (Audio CD)
Isis, musically, is the perfect band that I have been searching for. Aaron Turner has a genius mind, and he led this band to great heights. Sucks that they've been broken up for a few years now, but it's always good to find and collect all their music. Oceanic and Panopticon are my two favorite ISIS albums. "Altered Course" is such an amazing song.
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Panopticon by Isis
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