Isis – Panopticon

IsisFor a guy that’s got over 40 different genres of music in his i-tunes library, I’m not especially keen on genres and labels. Take metal for instance; you’ve got speed (Motorhead), thrash (Slayer), black (any of those bonkers Norwegian ones), hair (Motley Crue), art (Tool) and God knows how many other types. Isis (or ISIS as they like to be know) defy most of these labels. They’ve apparently been dubbed “post-metal”, “math-metal” even “surveillance-metal” (Panopticon is a concept album about the theory of prisons and surveillance in society… wait come back!). In truth, Isis are a group that have more in common with bands like Mogwai, Aereogramme (with whom Isis collaborated with in 2005) and Godspeed You Black Emperor than metal groups like Metallica and their ilk. Unashamedly intelligent, they create loud, heavy music that’s beautiful at the same time. Panopticon is their 5th album in 5 years.

In truth the concept of a “Big Brother” society in the 21st century is not really pushed to the fore, instead being only really seen on the CD’s cover booklet and the singular video for Backlit. The song itself going through many changes throughout it’s almost 8 minutes; heavy riffing one minute, the next it’s bass led ambiance which reminds me of Tortoise in their darker moments. The opening track “So Did We” is another heavy track, but the shimmering guitars almost meld into one another, so it’s difficult to tell when the beauty and the ugliness start and finish. “In Fiction” is almost spookily-quiet, it’s only 4 minutes into the song when you get the first clues at the oncoming storm. Vocalist Aaron Turner either sings softly or roars, but it’s buried in the mix so it becomes almost inconsequential.

“Altered Course” is the best track by a mile though, it starts with a crunchy guitar sound and almost hymmnal synth sound. Eventually the noise comes and it’s wonderfully abrasive. But it soon ends and descends into a nocturnal, glacial soundscape of rumbling drums, heavy bass and distant, shimmering guitars. It’s staggeringly beautiful and a track I’ve played over and over again. Panopticon isn’t really an album you put on in parties. The music isn’t direct, but instead slowly moves in a direction, almost like it’s evolving. If you’re interested in listening to music that semmingly comes from some other place, you’d do worse than to listen to a Isis album.

Isis – Backlit:

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