Isis has always been a band with vision. Since this Boston five-piece started in 1997, they have always pushed the boundaries of heavy music through their elaborate, evolving song structures and sampling elements. 2004’s Panopticon is no exception.Opening track “So Did We” starts with 30 seconds of heavy driving guitars and deep growling vocals punctuated by a pounding off-time drumbeat before melting into beautiful melodic interplay between guitarists Aaron Turner and Mike Gallagher and bassist Jeff Caxide. Two minutes later, vocalist/guitarist Turner reappears, now with a strained singing voice that serves as a brief segue into the next instrumental passage. Most of the album flows this way, with growls and vocals sparingly used to accentuate the methodical rise and fall of heaviness and harmony.
It’s impossible not to compare Isis’s sound to Neurosis. Though while Neurosis have started to become more drawn-out and subtle with their compositions, their previous rage taking a back seat to a more gradual and subdued sound, Isis keeps the energy constantly moving with each 6-minute-plus song rolling and crashing seamlessly from one change into the next. Panopticon is an album still driven primarily by music, not mood or atmosphere (though both are present), with enough layers in each song to keep every listen fresh.
Composition and production-wise, one could easily draw comparisons to metal’s rising stars Mastodon, which is no surprise considering Panopticon features the talents of producer/engineer Matt Bayles, who worked on Mastodon’s most recent offering Leviathan. Comparisons aside, Isis command their own specific sound and flavor, and Panopticon is a powerful demonstration of why this band continues to steadily build a solid fan base.