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ISIS - Panopticon cover
4.33 | 61 ratings | 5 reviews
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Album · 2004


1. So Did We (07:30)
2. Backlit (07:43)
3. In Fiction (08:58)
4. Wills Dissolve (06:47)
5. Syndic Calls (09:39)
6. Altered Course (09:57)
7. Grinning Mouths (08:27)

Total Time 59:00

Japan 2004 edition:

8. The Beginning And The End (Live In Tokyo) (08:38)

Total Time 67:38

Japan 2010 edition - CD2:

1. Altered Course (Live) (14:32)
2. In Fiction (Live) (10:20)

Total Time 24:52


- Aaron Turner / vocals, guitars
- Michael Gallagher / guitars
- Jeff Caxide / bass
- Aaron Harris / drums
- Bryant Meyer / electronics, guitars

Guest musician:
- Justin Chancellor / bass, effects (track 6)

About this release

CD released 19th October 2004 on Ipecac Recordings (IPC-057).

12" vinyl 2LP released 19th October 2004 on Robotic Empire (ROBO 041) / Trust No One Recordings (1019 copies) (TNO 027).

CD released 6th October 2004 in Japan on 6th October 2004.

12" blue translucent vinyl 2LP repressed 2005 on Trust No One Recordings (TNO 027), limited to 500 copies.

12" black vinyl 2LP repressed 4th January 2005 on Robotic Empire (ROBO 041), limited to 2073 copies.

12" vinyl 2LP repressed 2007 on Robotic Empire (ROBO 041), limited to 1000 copies:

- 400 copies on "deep sea" blue
- 400 copies on "exploding" orange
- 200 copies on black

12" black with orange splatter vinyl 2LP repressed 2009 on Robotic Empire (ROBO 041), limited to 289 copies.

2CD released 22nd January 2010 in Japan on Daymare Recordings (DYMC 115).

12" black vinyl 2LP repressed 2012 on Robotic Empire (ROBO 041), limited to 2000 copies.

CD remaster released 2014 on Ipecac Recordings (IPC157).

12" black vinyl 2LP repressed 2014 on Robotic Empire (ROBO 041), limited to 1300 copies.

A panopticon is a circular prison constructed so that the inspector can see all the prisoners at all times without being seen, from a central point.

Engineered and mixed at Paramount Studios in Los Angeles on June / July 2004.

Mastered at Paramount Mastering on July 2004.

Thanks to The Angry Scotsman, bartosso, Bosh66, adg211288 for the updates


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Specialists/collaborators reviews

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.
Oh the things for a single college boy of 18 years to do while he is on spring break. I decided to take one of these days and hike to the top of a tall, rocky hill that overlooks the entirety of the town of Bedford and more in the valley below and beyond. Moreover, I wanted to use this scenic view as visual inspiration for a written review of Isis' 'Panopticon'. So I packed up my notebook, my iPod, two bottles of water, and a sandwich. An hour later, I was at the designated spot.

I actually acquired a copy of 'Panopticon' during the summer of 2011 at my favorite CD store in Princeton, New Jersey for $9.99 new. I liked its scenic, post rock atmosphere mixed with sludgey yet calm metal riffs. In fact, the albums's art of a scenic, panoramic view of a large landscape is what eventually influenced me to hike up here on this hill, find a comfortable spot amongst these rocks, and write this review.

And actually, the view of the town, some highways, partial forests, and open farm fields fits really well for the atmosphere of 'Panopticon'. If I was looking at a 100% natural view like a great, vast forest or something, I'd probably be reviewing something like Blood of the Black Owl or Agalloch instead (hmm...ideas...).

This album's main advantage when conveying its atmosphere is that it is based on instrumentation. In other words, the lasting effect of the vocals on this album is very weak. They're there, but they only do one or two stanzas per song. The most is probably three in "Wills Dissolve" and "Syndic Calls". The convenient thing about the vocals though is that while the lyrics aren't easy to pick out and sing along to, they're still capable of at least being hummed along to.

On the instrumental side, all songs are played at a nice, slow-mid pace and never change tempo in the course of a single song. The riffs are varied, however, and seem to build up an atmosphere in each songs before reaching a climax in its final minutes. Guitar tone switched comfortably back and forth in each song from calm sounding post rock guitar and sludge metal riffs. Also adding to the atmosphere is a well utilized keyboard and decently audible bass. All this coagulates into the atmosphere of the album and, by extension, the panoramic view on the album art and of my own view of Bedford.

Any album that inspires me to hike through the woods and up a steep, rocky hill to write a review utilizing the view I get from the top definitely is worthy of my praise. 'Panopticon' is definitely one of the best atmospheric sludge metal albums out there, and an obvious necessity for fans of the genre. And I'm definitely glad I got this little adventure early in this week, because it's raining later; and when it's not raining, I'm going to be working.
The Angry Scotsman
Isis created something special with Oceanic, the blend of intellectualism and metal.

Sounds odd to many, and probably blasphemous to metal veterans, but as one 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.

The band 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 intellectuals, not jumping wildly or experimenting on this album, but fine tuning. Keep what was good and tweak what could have been.

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 though.

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
Waves of crushing riffs wash about on the listener right away. Everything is enveloped in dark heavy riffs. There is an atmosphere of discomfort everywhere. That's how Panopticon kicks off. After the first riff, everything goes from there. Many fans know this as Isis' masterpiece, and that praise comes well warranted.

The previous description could largely be used for the rest of the album. Deep crushing riffs are prominent everywhere. But as a post-metal release it's obviously going to have more than that. There are lucid atmospheres in every track and haunting soft passages, before everything builds up and crushes everything in its path. All together the dynamics form good chemistry, which is what makes Panopticon so good.

Of course, there are quite a few variations in style from song to song. "Backlit" starts off almost laid back and takes a while to develop and build into it's crushing insanity. "Altered Course" while still having that atmospheric sludge aura contains energy and is one of the better instrumentals, bringing Isis on par with their contemporaries Pelican in terms of instrumental work. "Wills Dissolve" is more emotionally dispassionate and starts very soft and tugs at the area of the heart that has lost hope, as the title suggests. All that, and the closer couldn't be better, "Grinning Mouths" is quite driving and the rhythms and the riffs combine into a large driving monster of a song.

The only part I hesitate to call poor in this album are "In Fiction" which maybe stays too long in soft territory and noodles too much in ambience. When you have a post metal album awash in slow tempi and low key riffs, it helps to not stay in the same style too long so as to not bore the listener.

But other than that, Panopticon is a landmark and certainly deserves its title as one of the crown jewels of sludge, doom, post metal, or whatever Isis listeners choose to call them. Its atmospheres never let up, it's heavy when it needs to be, and the builds are splendid and intelligent. Basically, it has all the elements you would want in an Isis album, and more. A worthy purchase, and always good for listening to.

Members reviews

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.

Ratings only

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