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THE METAL OBSERVER - Review - ISIS - Panopticon

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3 tablatures for Isis

Isis - Panopticon (10/10) - USA - 2004

Genre: Progressive Metal
Label: Ipecac Recordings
Playing time: 59:06
Band homepage: Isis


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

In “Panopticon“, ISIS present their third album already and once again they astonish, you can or have to firmly allege this at the very beginning of this review already. After the latest masterpiece “Oceanic” (2002) you were almost tempted to dare state that it wasn’t possible to get any better. Would have been a wrong belief, for ISIS manage to do the trick of showing a clear evolution once again, not only with regard to the musical abilities of this exceptional band. Because as far as these go they are exalted since the debut “Celestial” (2001) anyway and why should anything change even a bit to the worse.


ISIS haven’t become heavier or more up-to-date either, but on the seven tracks overall, they are looking for the always depressing heaviness in instrumental passages which get out of hand fantastically and which are often surprisingly calm. And even in a billion lightyears this timeless band won’t have anything to do with any trends. That’s it concerning this topic, musically they spread the mentioned seven songs over almost sixty minutes, and even though this might lead all those, who haven’t heard ISIS so far, to the hasty assumption that it could maybe get somewhat one-dimensional and tiring, then you have to nip this presumption in the bud instantly. Yes, I guess the wind will quickly be taken out of those ones’ sails, as monotony is nowhere to be found. This band belongs to that chosen circle that already has excellent representatives in NEUROSIS, CULT OF LUNA or GODSPEED! YOU BLACK EMPEROR and even though parallels can be discovered, ISIS aren’t comparable nonetheless, nor do they have to let anybody tell them that they aren’t independent enough.


Nothing of that is the case, as the opener “So Did We” already doesn’t let doubts about the uniqueness of ISIS arise and somebody who is able to compose songs like that should also be rewarded with this kind of lavish praise. The quite rude beginning and the actually ambush-like heaviness of the opener make way for a perfectly showcased hell ride through fantastic soundscapes, and the overwhelming feeling of these five exceptional musicians for progressive and yet moving as well as catchy melodies is simply unbelievable. This goes for the vocal effort by Aaron Turner as well as for the musical performance by the four “craftsmen” which could hardly be on a higher level. Also on “Backlit”, ultra-heavy guitar walls reign, viscous as lava, hard as Krupp’s steel, boneshaking howling complete with wonderfully showcased and implanted clear vocals, powerful as well as hypnotizing drumming and deeply rumbling basses. From blazing fits of rage to minimalistic and heavily menacing sound puzzlings everything is present. At that the connections of the single tracks are surprising and make it hard for you to only mention one single song as a check out tip and thus choose it over the other highlights matching it. Principally, “Panopticon” has to be enjoyed as a whole to be able to comprehend the greatness and elevation of this milestone in its whole.


„Backlit“ is followed by the slowly flowing „In Fiction“ which is only torn out of its calmness after a bit more than four minutes of conjuring singing and which intensifies continuously and becomes a rapid torrent, before peaceful calmness returns finally and the passage to “Wills Dissolve” passes seamlessly once again. But here it also takes some minutes before the singing kicks in, but exactly these extended instrumental phases drag you deeper and deeper into the realm of ISIS and don‘t let you go until the end. The album’s heartwork is, as far as you are allowed to mention it for the aforementioned reason, the almost 10-minute long “Syndic Calls”. The scheme of the predecessing songs works entirely here, too, the change between the most diverse worlds of emotions is perefect and what for one smells like Hardcore and Metal time and again is already crossing completely different spheres at the next moment and evades any categorization. Overwhelming, no doubt. The following “Altered Course” is supported musically by no less than Justin Chancellor, the bassist of TOOL who are deified everywhere, and if anyone suspects commercial reservations here, it’s his own fault. ISIS simply don’t need to fall back upon such overdone advertisement tactics. Really obviously musicians have met for a session, or rather for a song, here and furthermore they have created something absolutely unique. It isn’t possible on principle to express all this with words and thus “Grinning Mouths” is also unmatched and brilliant in its make.


The question, where ISIS take all their ideas from and under which circumstances they are created to be put to music in the end, probably remains unanswered here for now. But as for the contents, “Panopticon” is prepared really well and the album was not given its name coincidentally. Named after an utopian prison complex which makes it possible for the guards to look into every cell without ever being present there themselves, it basically symbolizes the increasing total surveillance and control of our society. The masses plagued by Reality Shows, superficial sitcoms and bad trash television are turning more and more into dirigible puppets without even realizing this. The so-called “free” society mutates into an obeying herd which is kept in check well by the “Big Brother”. Dark times demand such music and who, if not ISIS, is perfectly suitable for this role, even though you can perceive a small beacon of light time and again. But you can’t talk about pseudo-depressions or untrustworthy melancholy here, reality is working here and maybe it opens the listener’s eyes in a musical way. So it’s all the more logical that ISIS are signed to Ipecac Recordings, the label of Mike Patton (FAITH NO MORE, TOMAHAWK, FANTOMAS, …). This also fits perfectly and thus, nothing is left to be desired, as the booklet (or rather folder) kept in high-polish and the powerful but differentiated production can convince to full extent as well. So, what, except for the highest score, would be appropriate here, and those who don’t believe in all the admiration in these lines, should simply do themselves the favour and take the time to check out “Panopticon” at the next occasion. To me, this masterpiece is an excellent contender for the title “album of the year 2004”, I guess I don’t need to say/write more. (Online November 30, 2004)

Alexander Ehringer

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