ISIS — Panopticon (review)

ISIS — Panopticon album cover Album · 2004 · Atmospheric Sludge Metal Buy this album from MMA partners
5/5 ·
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.
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