Record Review - 3 December 02 2004

In a city known for cookie-cutter hardcore acts, Boston’s monolithic metal sextet Isis has always stood in stark contrast from most of its musical peers. After a recent relocation to California, the band’s sixth studio recording Panopticon confirms its status as a forward-thinking metal act.

Isis’ previous efforts, most notably 2002’s Oceanic, hinted at the band’s desire to bestow its sludgy brand of depressive metal with an epic majesty rarely found in the more extreme branches of the rock spectrum. In Panopticon, this vision is fully manifested as an album that showcases the elegance and calculated restraint of post-rock acts like Mogwai alongside the textured, dynamic and oppressively heavy dirges that have long defined Isis’ sound.

Album opener “So Did We” roars out of the gates, wasting no time in invoking the band’s more aggressive tendencies, but gradually unwinds into a pool of sparkling affected guitars and melancholic waves of glacial feedback. “In Fiction” creates a ritualistic trance via gentle synth pulses, hypnotic drumming and sinewy bass before exploding into a punishing Melvins-styled groove.

Unlike the previous Isis releases, Panopticon boasts vocalist/guitarist Turner’s gruff singing just as prominently as his harshly bellowed screams. The haunting charm of his strained vocal struggle lends itself well to the raw, emotive nature of Isis’ music and is a welcome addition to the group’s ever-evolving sound.-- Hamilton Jordan Jr.