Progarchives, the progressive rock ultimate discography
Progarchives, the progressive rock ultimate discography
Isis - Panopticon CD (album) cover



Experimental/Post Metal

From, the ultimate progressive rock music website

Bookmark and Share
Honorary Collaborator / Retired Admin
4 stars Isis don't defy categorization, but they do sidestep it. While they're a little more nuanced than your average hardcore band and a little more mysterious than your average metal band, they're also just too heavy to be much of anything else. Fortunately, on an album as good as Panopticon, composed of seven towering, epic songs that build progress and maturity off the best elements of their past work, it hardly matters.

Panopticon is still very much an Isis record, which is to say atmospheric, moody, technically precise and smolderingly loud, but here a heightened sense of musicality works wonders. Vocalist Aaron Turner growls and bellows as he did throughout records like 2002's Oceanic and its predecessors, but increasingly rarely; more often he actually sings, and even more often he keeps quiet, letting the music speak for itself.

Which it does amply: the guitar assault is likewise as fearsome as ever, yet Panopticon's songs are more melodic and structured, lending all the sound and fury an enchantingly expressive undertone. The dull wood-on-skin thud of the drums, coupled with the methodical rumble of the bass, underlay the swirl and churn of the guitars as they curl upward in slow spirals. Isis rein in their chaos skillfully, applying just the right punch of volume at just the right moment, swelling and fading and swelling again to explosion with formidable discipline.

The album is also possessed of a greater patience than ever before. Whereas eight- minute-plus songs are nothing new for the band, the strongest tracks, like "So Did We" and "In Fiction," are more focused on building toward a central climax, underscoring their power by foreshadowing it more often than flexing it. This sense of drama in turn lends itself beautifully to the band's studied conceptual bent: not only can you still hear the depths of the watery themes behind Oceanic and the Red Sea EP, but now a palpable sense of paranoia joins them in the dark, brooding swells that line the songs' quieter moments.Isis are sophisticated, but they play with the conviction necessary to trim away the excess pretentiousness.

But the clincher is the vocals. Turner uses them not to convey the lyrics, which are all but incomprehensible anyway, nor to fulfill that de facto part of the hardcore formula, but as a honest-to-god instrument. His singing voice is a raspy and by all accounts ugly one, but it blends perfectly with the tuneful abrasion of everything under it. And while he has sung before, like on Oceanic's closer "Hym," and while he does growl his fair share here, his voice is never the focus of the song, just another instrument, and one used sparingly at that. Each song on Panopticon is at least 75 percent vocal-free anyway; its one full instrumental track, "Altered Course," stands out only by virtue of how brightly melodic it is, not by the absence of lyrics.

By cultivating their considerable instrumental prowess and diminishing the hardcore snarl commonplace in their line of work, Isis have surpassed in finesse and accessibility (the good kind) their already highly-lauded past efforts, and just totally gotten it right. Familiarity with post-hardcore or avant-metal is, happily, not a prerequisite for being captivated by Panopticon, nor is caring enough about them to know where to file Isis. Imagination and volume will do. 4 stars and HIGHLY recommended to the progressive metal fan.

Report this review (#62098)
Posted Thursday, December 29, 2005 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars With Panopticon, Isis seems to have taken the perfect combination of elements from their previous albums, and added some extra spark to make this a truly brilliant record. They fuse traditional metal and hardcore riffing and vocals with the intricate textures, vibrant layering, and laid-back structure of post-rock bands such as Mogwai.

The monstrously epic songs (all tracks fall within the 7-11 minute range) flow effortlessly from crushing distorted chords to light, ambient beauty and back again. Every second of music is powerful and moving in its own way. The instrumental compositions mostly speak for themselves (and they do so very well), as vocals are used sparingly throughout the album. This is a good thing because Turner has a rather repulsive hardcore growl at times, but he is also willing to use melody when appropriate. The sparse use of vocals becomes important because, while little emphasis is placed on lyrics, the vocals act perfectly as another layer in a vast soundscape. As ugly as the vocals can be at times, there really is not one place on the record where I would say "man, I wish he hadn't sung at that part..."

What is most interesting to me about this record is that the music itself is a paradox. It is undeniably metal, yet undeniably post-rock. Panopticon flawlessly combines metal intensity with a distinctly ambient feel. It is an album that you can listen to intently and study for its musical qualities, or you can put it on the stereo and sit back and read a book to it.

I really give this album 4.5 stars, because it's clearly not for everyone, but for any fan of interesting prog-metal and/or post-rock, this album is a MUST.

Report this review (#63415)
Posted Friday, January 6, 2006 | Review Permalink
4 stars Two years after Oceanic was released, Isis go back into the studio to record Panopticon which is the third studio album of the band (not counting the ep's and demos). The line-up remains the same but many other things have changed. Isis have become more popular and gained a big fan base and as a result the expectations were very high. In my opinion they managed really well to satisfy their fans and create a brilliant album.

Well, you could see post-rock influences on Isis debut album and those were much more obvious on Oceanic (which was also categorized as post-metal, being too 'heavy' to be part of the post-rock category). This one turned out to be more near to post-rock than sludge metal or hardcore. The production is really good with the sound being much clearer than on Oceanic but that's not necessarily good. Moreover the songs seem to be more structured and the album as well since all the songs are about the same length and are very much connected. This brings the album much closer to perfection and makes it easier to digest. However, the raw sound of Oceanic and its "unorthodox" structure really fascinated me. It seemed more original. It also fit with the aesthetics of the music. Anyway, most people will disagree with me to this and thus it's better to say that the production is very good and let you decide whether you like it or not.

Aaron Harris, does again a wonderful job behind the drums but at times he sound a bit more "metronomic" than on Oceanic. The guitars still leading the music wither with killer riffing or with soft clean guitars a la Mogwai. The sound however is much clearer. Caxide's solid bass playing along with Harris really give you the image of a very strong rhythmic section letting the other members build on that powerful base all the music. Bryant Clifford Meyer apart from the effects and electronics he provides helping in the creation of the ambience he also plays guitar. On "Altered Course" guest Justin Chancellor from Tool plays bass guitar and adds a few sounds.Turner's vocals appear much less on this album and when they appear they are most like singing and less like growling. Like the protologist pointed really well in his review, Turner's vocals are just another instrument and not really a way to say the lyrics.

Again this is a concept album, but I won't even try to write what it's about because in my opinion it can have multiple meanings and interpratations and probably mine would be either wrong or only one of the many. The album's title derives from philosopher Jeremy Bentham's panopticon prison ideal but don't take this for granted since I only read this somewhere and I'm not sure it is true. Turner also did the photographs and artwork. The cover is an aerial photograph and not a photo of the sea like I thought when looking the small photo on the archives and having in mind that water was a theme it had concerned Isis in the past.

In conclusion, it's a really carefully done album. If you are new to Isis I think it's an excellent starying point. However, like I said before I prefer Oceanic. This album was the one that made Isis a very well known band. I really like "So did We" and "In Fiction" (a video clip of which can be found on Isis DVD, "Clearing the eye") and the way the album starts and ends (Brilliant!). To me Isis is one of the best bands in the "heavy" scene and will have many opportunities to prove it in the future. 4 stars.

Report this review (#104924)
Posted Saturday, December 30, 2006 | Review Permalink
Prog Leviathan
3 stars Very heavy, very moody, and at times very powerful metal/post/hardcore/instrumental rock which slithers and shatters its ways way through easy description. Being a casual fan, I can hardly say how this release fits into the bands library, but I will say that it is often quite good, being filled with (usually dark,) sweeping melodies and spooky guitar work. The vocalist's singing is a coarse combination of monotonous growl and gravelly sustains-- becoming more like an instrument itself slipping into the tapestry of crunchy destruction created by the band; he only seems to sing during the loud parts, which doesn't distract the listener from the overall effect of the band's sound as most bad singers do though.

The real attraction here is the band's big, building compositions which often take minutes to reach their monstrous climax; fans of post-rock groups like God's Speed or Mogwai will be in similar territory and find a few new ideas (so long as they can withstand the growling). The quite moments hold their own handedly even against the black colossus of the band's trademark sound which makes for enough variety in sound to keep listening. I personally enjoy the heavy builds, and find "Panopticon"s sound an enjoyable dark diversion into the murky depths of instrumental moodiness, and recommend it to anyone looking for a more evil counterpart to some of there favorite post bands, or for black metal die-hards looking for something a little different.

Songwriting 3 Instrumental Performances 3 Lyrics/Vocals 3 Style/Emotion/Replay 2

Report this review (#132099)
Posted Monday, August 6, 2007 | Review Permalink
5 stars On panopticon Isis start to find their own sound and what a very beautiful epic album this one is. The album starts of with So did we a great opener, and then song end just great. This band knows how to lay down some awesome tracks. Next is backlit a song where Aaron Turner uses somewhat normal vocals the the song does the usual Isis build up to the end of the song and ends great. next is in fictions this track starts off very mellow with some spacey guitar then builds into a very epic song and great bass playing by Jeff Caxide. Wills Dissolve is track i use to look past but since i seen them live they played this one and it was amazing another strong track by Isis . The next two tracks are good but i will skip to my favorite of the album. Grinning mouths is just breathtaking song the guitar is simple but yet beautiful, Gallagher and Turners guitars are a great combo an there is not a duo like it. Isis end their albums with such epic songs and this always seems to amaze me. And I think Aaron Turners vocals go great with their music, the voice is not the focal point in Isis, the music is. Great music by Great Musicians! 5 stars
Report this review (#148237)
Posted Tuesday, October 30, 2007 | Review Permalink
5 stars I really don't know why I love this album so much. Large portions of it seem almost featureless and amount to nothing more than great walls of guitar riffs. The vocals are also indistinct from any other growler. And yet every time I put it on I just get thoroughly lost in it and find it utterly absorbing and thrilling. It's almost like a drug* (taking you on one hell of a trip!) and becomes very habit forming. Fortunately, the periods of cold turkey aren't so bad but the desire for another shot is always, ALWAYS, there!

*This is a supposition formed from complete inexperience of drug taking. Thank you.

Report this review (#182324)
Posted Saturday, September 13, 2008 | Review Permalink
The Pessimist
4 stars I will start by saying that I love this album. I love this band, and its style of music. I haven't really heard anything like this before now, and this is pretty much my first real experience with the Post-Metal genre: I enjoyed every minute of it thoroughly. Panopticon is inherently a progressive metal album, watered down in rhythmic and harmonic complexity to creat some extremely atmospheric stuff. Isis are practically instrumental, barre the very scarce gutural growls and clean vocals, and very repetitive. Yet although, beyond all understanding of my own, they manage to keep me interested all the way through. There are twists and turns, some odd time signatures and the occassional funky riff here and there, but altogether, it is a very atmospheric breed of progressive metal. And may I say that progressive is the operative word here: the progressions within each song are beautiful and happen almost seamlessly. Perhaps the clever use of instrumental voicing achieves this? You would have to really dig deep into the tracks to be certain.

This album is also atrociously heavy. Not heavy in the same way as Edge Of Sanity, Meshuggah or Death, but the general mood will crush you to dust. The atmosphere is perhaps the equivelant of a thousand tonnes of music, and when I've listened to Panopticon in its entirety, I can't listen to anything else afterwards. Even a touch of classical music will probably make your ears bleed after listening to this amount of intensity. If anything, this is one of the heaviest albums out there, even by Grindcore standards. Not brutal, but heavy.

Each track is a standalone track, but it is very difficult to put the differences into words. Even though each track is different in many ways, the album could easily get away with being put into one song. It is also difficult to put into words the general mood of the album. Some may call it depressing. I however, do not. The deeper you delve into the album, the more hypnotic it gets, and apparent depression is replaced with feelings of space and lucidity. In fact, despite being crushingly heavy in atmosphere, the mood of the album is a very chilled out one, which I personally have never come across in all the music I've heard.

Aside from my rant, my preferred songs are the fantastic opener So Did We, Backlit and Grinning Mouths. But as aforementioned, you will rarely catch me listening to these tracks without their successors following. It is that kind of album, and a very rare breed at that.

I would recommend this to any prog metal fan. Even the complex music lovers will find a love in this album, as it is a slight relief from having to think about your music all the time. In fact, I would recommend it to everyone, even the classic prog fans. The only people I would suggest stay away are those that are easily put off by heavy atmospheres, i.e the songs Red - King Crimson and Plague of Lighthouse Keepers - Van Der Graaf Generator. I will rate this album 4 stars, it is excellent, but I don't feel it is a masterpiece.

Report this review (#194607)
Posted Sunday, December 21, 2008 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars Panopticon is the third full-length studio album by American post metal/ Experimental metal act Isis. This is where all the pieces begin to fit together IMO. Having listened to and reviewed the first two albums by Isis Celestial (2000) and Oceanic (2002) without being totally blown away ( both are great albums though and especially Oceanic (2002) has lots of excellent elements), I am really thrilled about Panopticon.

The music style on the album is unmistakably Isis but some things have changed for the better since Oceanic (2002) IMO. The characteristic slow and building heavy guitar riffs are still there but the mellow atmospheric post rock sections with clean guitars are even more pronounced on Panopticon than they were on Oceanic (2002). The music has become more melodic and the vocals while still shouting also features more melodic qualities which is something I appreciate and greatly enjoy ( there are actually not that many vocals on the album though. Much of the album is instrumental). The vocals are still pretty low in the mix but it gives Isis music a special feel.

The production is professional and very well sounding. Crushingly heavy but with lots of dynamic between the heavy sections and the atmospheric parts. The sound is actually very original.

Panopticon is an excellent album by Isis and the first album by the band that I enjoy without reservations. It´s a seminal album in the genre for sure and a well deserved 4 star rating from me. I even considered giving the album 5 stars at one point.

Report this review (#224303)
Posted Friday, July 3, 2009 | Review Permalink
5 stars A good friend of mine introduced me to this band long before I was ready for them and told me a lot about this piece of music. One of the things that stuck with me was how he said that a lot of people had written to the band to tell them how this album helped them kick their heroin addiction. At face value I found it strange and didn't quite understand what it meant.

Five years down the track armed with broader tastes and an open mind I popped this sucker on, and now I understand what my friend was talking about.

Panopticon would be an album of juxtaposed styles if it wasn't so homogeneous and well written. Depressive sludge metal riffing gives way to spacey dream like post-rock textures frequently and it seems so natural and unlaboured that you don't give it a second thought save to enjoy it. I mentioned the word 'depressive' here and it is probably the most accurate descriptor you could give this album. I don't take that word lightly, I haven't really listened to a record that nails the depression vibe as well as this one - helpless, heavy, tender and with the slightest hint of hope.

This album is definitely an acquired taste, sludge, doom and stoner will always be that way. Do not let that detract from the wonders of this album, albums this cohesive, deep and meaningful are rare delights that should be cherished.

Report this review (#244509)
Posted Tuesday, October 13, 2009 | Review Permalink
Prog Metal Team
3 stars Panopticon continues the personal sound that Isis had found on Oceanic. It's a mellowed out version of Neurosis-alike post-metal, or brain metal as I sometimes tend to call it. The music is not too heavy generally and features lots of brooding post-rock parts, with a keen sense for melody and tension building. It's mainly instrumental, with only a few short sections with gruff vocals.

So Did We for example kicks the album off in a stately fashion and is one of the better parts of the album. Also In Fiction, Wills Dissolve and Altered Course are very strong and atmospheric. The main Isis asset is to work out brooding pieces with rich harmonic and semi-dissonant chords and to build those up to a forceful climax. They do that very well on those tracks.

Unfortunately it turns out to be the third Isis album in a row that is not entirely satisfying. While the approach to each song is very similar, the quality of the material is not. Backlit for example doesn't have one aspect that makes it remarkable, it mainly consists of predictable post-rock doodling, weak metal riffs and annoying vocals. Also Syndic Calls is pretty average.

Overall this album consist mostly of excellent music and is one of Isis' best. But there is also some average material that might be good enough for fans of the style but that is only mildly engaging for post-sceptics like myself. 3.5 stars

Report this review (#271300)
Posted Friday, March 12, 2010 | Review Permalink
4 stars Blueprint of a city.

If anything, the cover art suggests pictures of a city christened in marble monuments and steel skyscrapers. Yeah, the music may sound like metal riffs, but step back and try to visualise and you might just see what I mean. It's stunning.

ISIS are a completely different breed of progressive metal than I'm normally used. After going through bouts of trying to understand groups with flash and technique, ISIS is another story. It's all about layering riffs, setting a foundation for their music and expanding on that foundation enough to draw you in. The riffs are like hooks that pierce your brain and most of the time you're excited to see where the song can take you. The composition approach reminds me of the Miles Davis, moreso in the business of developing musical ideas than the style of music played. That's the impression I get from PANOPTICON.

I'm willing to accept the seven songs of PANOPTICON to be interconnected in some way, but there are a few songs that are powerful enough to stand on their own terms. In particular, the succession of tracks from ''Backlit'' to ''Syndic Calls'' constitutes the best run in the entire album; the vocal section in ''Syndic Calls'' is the euphoria on the album for me, although ''In Fiction'' is splendid. ''Grinning Mouths'' is also not to be overlooked as a closer, a fitting one at that. In general, most of PANOPTICON sounds like ISIS getting a feel for where they think the song should go, not following a textbook definition of metal or prog.

One problem might be the vocals; they either are the most generic death grunts out there or they completely cop Kurt Cobain's vocal style. But aside from that (and a relatively weak ''Altered Course''), PANOPTICON is one of the best progressive metal albums I've heard. And this is coming from a guy who is not a metalhead.

Report this review (#338363)
Posted Monday, November 29, 2010 | Review Permalink
5 stars With their third studio album, ISIS continue to evolve. After releasing an outstanding album such as Oceanic many bands fall into the trap of copying themselves, not ISIS however who not only evolve, but manage to surpass a great work with a monumental album.

The album album opener So did We starts with heavy riff and growling vocals but then as quickly as it started, it mellows down into a calm, atmospheric but turbulent part and as the song progresses, so does the turbulence, as the layers of sounds add up and thicken the massive wall of sound that the song is. Then the song explodes into a beautiful climax, a really emotional instrumental passage. The song manages to capture the essence of the album, very atmospheric, sometimes gritty, sometimes beautiful, sometimes turbulent, sometimes calm. The atmosphere on the album is very heavy and dramatic and even in the mellow parts, there is an overwhelming pressure on the listener. The main theme in the music structure is that of progression, the listener is presented with a minimalistic riff and then listens to it progress patiently into something entierly different, and as it evolves, the layers of sound build upon each other before blossoming into climatic riffs.

The clash of styles is pretty interesting here, at times the hardcore/sludge roots of ISIS are apparent, while at other times it has a very metal sound to it and a very strong post rock feel. On Panopticon, ISIS manage to combine the strong elements of each of those genres; the emotional intensity of hardcore, the crushing riffs of metal and the beautiful and clear riffs of post rock without being confusing or cheesy, it all flows so naturally that the cross of genres becomes one of it's greatest strengths, it adds up to the musical depth of the album. The album is mostly instrumental, but has moments of both growling, and grunge-style vocals.

This album is without a doubt one of the very best album that I've heard, and it gets better every time I listen to it, and in my opinion stands among the very best progressive metal albums of all time.

Report this review (#569071)
Posted Wednesday, November 16, 2011 | Review Permalink
4 stars Isis created something special with Oceanic, the blend of intellectualism and metal.

Seen as blasphemous and boring, (if not downright stupid) to many metal heads, for myself it is a truly rewarding experience. More for sitting down and deeper listening than thrashing around, but it was undeniably heavy, sludgy and fairly slow. Black Sabbath for the 21st Century, but while eschewing most metal norms. That's my type of metal band!

Isis did not make much of a change on Panopticon, but took an incremental approach, (just like they've been doing from their early EP's until now). This is the same basic album as Oceanic, but is heavier, (yes) utilizes ambient passages a bit more, and features some more clean vocals. Also there is a tad more polish here, that was just not quite present on Oceanic. Turner and Isis truly are progressive, not jumping wildly or experimenting on this album, but fine tuning. Keep what was good and tweak a bit.

So yeah, this album has it all. The crushing walls of sonic noise, the atmospheric interludes (which can be amazingly beautiful), subtle and sophisticated song writing, emphasis on chord and overall song progression, and buried, rough vocals. There is a decent bit of clean singing as well. Yet again this music is about texture, atmosphere, subtlety, and progression. An experience more than a listen, as all the songs flow together like one.

While there is some more variation than "Oceanic" it is largely the same thing and while it doesn't get as samey, it could be a bit constant for some. There is no real standout song but that's because these aren't really songs in the traditional sense, it's designed to be an entire album experience not individual songs.

The album is named after the 18th Century idea of Jeremy Bentham. His idea was a prison, (the Panopticon) where a guard could see every prisoner, but not the other way around. Every prisoner can be observed, but each one will never know if they are. An efficient design and one that would hopefully lead to a constant sense of "Big Brother" and ideally, self regulation amongst the prisoners.

An idea that Turner has compared with the US Government.

Leaves me feeling more crushed than the music!

Panopticon is an excellent album. An absolute jewel of post-metal. Metal heads that a taste for the progressive or artsy side, or just enjoy chill music along with heavy metal, must give this a listen.

Four and a Half Stars


Report this review (#634842)
Posted Thursday, February 16, 2012 | Review Permalink
5 stars Panopticon by Isis is the brilliant companion piece to Oceanic and continues the adept fusion of post-rock and metal set forth on that album. With strong competition in 2004 from Cult of Luna's excellent Salvation, Isis manage to remain ahead of the game with their cohesive compositions and their absolute command of mood and atmosphere. If bands like Godspeed You Black Emperor, Sigor Ros and Mogwai are the conceptual leaders of the post-rock movement, Isis surely occupy a similar position when it comes to the post-metal subgenre, and the shimmering, majestic walls of guitar in Panopticon only underline this point. Highly recommended.
Report this review (#670689)
Posted Tuesday, March 20, 2012 | Review Permalink

ISIS Panopticon ratings only

chronological order | showing rating only

Post a review of ISIS Panopticon

You must be a forum member to post a review, please register here if you are not.


As a registered member (register here if not), you can post rating/reviews (& edit later), comments reviews and submit new albums.

You are not logged, please complete authentication before continuing (use forum credentials).

Forum user
Forum password

Copyright Prog Archives, All rights reserved. | Legal Notice | Privacy Policy | Advertise | RSS + syndications

Other sites in the MAC network: — jazz music reviews and archives | — metal music reviews and archives