Isis Panopticon

[Ipecac; 2004]

Rating: 4/5

Styles: metal, post rock
Others: Tool, Neurosis, Pelican, Mogwai

Like any proper nerd, when I found out Isis' new album would be named Panopticon, my geeky heart filled with joy at the thought of explaining a term usually confined to academia to... well, anyone. Usually associated with Foucault (but developed by Jeremy Bentham), a panopticon is a type of prison in which inmates are kept in line by being constantly held in view by unknown watchers. Based on cover art of an aerial photograph, I assume Isis are commenting on constant surveillance due to new technologies (and perhaps attitudes of the powers that be). This is fine and good and deep and thoughtful, etc., but upon listening to the album, perhaps the title reflects the attention and pressure on Isis to deliver after their last masterpiece, Oceanic.

This sense of being watched is subverted to brilliant effect on the second track, "Backlit." Following on the heels of "So Did We," a synopsis of everything great about Isis, "Backlit" starts off with chiming melodic guitar on top of a major key chord progression free of any trace of heaviness or imminent doom. Then, on top of it all, nicely sung vocals (for Isis) are thrown into the mix. Though not unpleasant, one begins to worry that Isis have given up the sludgy sound that is at the root of their success. Then, almost imperceptibly, the song evolves into a patented Isis' bone crushing assault, leaving the feeling that they have deliberately led me astray, so as not to expect the inevitable kick in the head.

Panopticon doesn't immediately distinguish itself from its predecessor. Rather, Isis shifts in the slightest of increments toward more overt melodies (that is, higher on the fret board, at least). To relate all this back to Foucauldian theory, the punishment that the panopticon exerts is the paranoia resulting from constant monitoring, eventually causing the prisoner to conform of their own "free" will. In this sense, I applaud Isis' effort, under close scrutiny, to vary their sound. As it is, this album doesn't outshine Oceanic, but it is notable that Panopticon is nearly as brilliant without being a carbon copy.

1. So Did We
2. Backlit
3. In Fiction
4. Wills Dissolve
5. Syndic Calls
6. Altered Course
7. Grinning Mouths

Most Read