Tue 26th October 2004
When asked if I would be willing to do this review, I have to say I was a little reluctant at first. You see, Isis, in my humble opinion are one of the best bands in the world at the moment, and hence, my ability to remain impartial may be somewhat impaired. Anyways...
...the album 'Panopticon' was probably one of the most eagerly anticipated releases of the year, and as soon as the first track kicks in, you can see why. 'So Did We' drops straight in, and sums up the heavy side of Isis quite well within the first ten seconds. Then a mere twenty seconds later we see the other side of Isis, the chilled out ambient Massive Attack esque sound they can produce. As first songs go on albums this isn't their best, but is still somewhat brilliant. The vocals have a haunting quality that only the likes of Neurosis can usually capture, their use of samples, and synth sounds comes thru better than ever before, and there ability to take you on a journey starts to shine through.
The second track 'Backlit' is probably my second favourite song on the album. It starts off with a quiet cleanish riff, that is so simple it simply stays in your head, and you end up humming it all day, and stealing it the next time you pick up your guitar. Their ability to build such strong structures on relatively simplistic riffs is rare, and much appreciated by myself. They take ideas, slowly change and develop them, and then hit you with absolutely massive sounding sections of music.
The next track 'in fiction' continues down the lighter side of Isis, and clocks in at around the 8 minute mark. It has a very similar feel to a lot of the bands work on their last, less aggressive album, 'Oceanic' . Then comes 'Wills Dissolve', the best song on the album by far. Again their use of a very simple bluesy riff starts the song, and for two and a half minutes they just jam. Beautiful harmonies come from all angles, and the drums remain simple and just allow the song to roll onwards. Then it comes, the distortion, the riff you've spent four minutes waiting for. And its good, better than good, its great. Aarons vocals come in and float pleasantly over the top and are actually sang, something I personally felt Isis should have done much earlier in their career.
The next and final three songs, I could describe in mass detail, but to be honest there is little point. 'Syndic Calls', 'Altered Course', and 'Grinning Mouths' are all monstrously long songs, all following in a similar vain to the rest of the album, they all fit, they all sound ace, they all work brilliantly.
Now for the hard part. 'Panopticon' is an immense album. The band have proven even more so, that they are capable of writing beautiful, thought provoking, intelligent music. Their use of light and dark sounds balances well, they know how to write shit hot riffs, they know how to take you from one extreme to the other brilliantly. They basically know how to write good heavy music.
However, this album lacks something. It lacks an intensity that their previous albums have supplied. Nothing really stands out as much as some of their earlier works. If you like Isis because of the ambience, and relaxing qualities it can have, this is the album for you. If though, like me, you like Isis when they're brutally kicking your face in, with a riff from the gods, this is probably not gonna be your favourite album. But still an album you should buy, just one you probably won't listen to as much, as say, 'Celestial'.
So to sum up, a very strong album, one of the bet of the year. But sadly, probably not one of their best.