Despite what the calendar may tell you, Christmas has arrived early this year, though much earlier than expected. To my doorstep came a US Postal Service delivery man bearing a package with my name and the Hydrahead logo on it, instantaneously I knew exactly what dwelt inside. I politely thanked Santa, who apparently goes by the name of Tom these days, and quickly turned and placed the item on the nearby table. I paused for a moment, then tore open my gift and there it was ' my very own Panopticon album.
The version I received in the mail was the slightly more elaborate custom packaging design for those that pre-ordered. Covering the jewel case was a special slip-case that was embossed with a wax seal of the letter "P" in a medieval style. It was also hand numbered and personalized to me. The inside of the slip-case contains a sincere thank you letter from the band expressing their support to peers, friends, and fans. The actual CD came in a standard jewel case whose inserts are decorated with various aerial photographs of the landscape in and around the city of Los Angeles. All in all, it is yet another stunning layout by Turner, which comes as no surprise.
Panopticon, their second effort for Ipecac Records, begins as "So Did We" hints that Isis is picking things up right where the band left off; the opening segment features crushing guitars and the rough and throaty bellows of guitarist/vocalist Turner. But instead of continuing on in this manner, the song enters into a segment dominated by the stunningly beautiful guitars of Turner and Michael Gallagher, which are further emphasized by the smooth, flowing drum work of Aaron Harris. But the most evident change is in the vocal delivery of Turner, who has added clean melodies to contrast his coarse roars. Yet, staying true to their style, Isis make use of repetitious sequences, slowly making slight changes to the composition as the song continues towards its ending. Things keep moving along with the second song, "Backlit." Much like 2002's critically acclaimed Oceanic, there is an intense focus on instrumentation, which incorporates both subdued moments as well as the heavy. But Isis is careful not to be overbearing, which is what separates them from those attempting to rise in the wake of their success.
"In Fiction" opens with simple beautiful guitars partnered with the soft drum-work of Harris. As the minutes pass you by, the song begins to take on more elements, the bass playing of Jeff Caxide becomes more prevalent and the drumming increases. The song continues to build as Turner's vocals are added, further teasing the listener for several more minutes. But the teases are not unrewarding, the waiting and building expectations pay off just beyond the 7:00 mark. It all comes together into the most perfect orchestration and the guitars take center stage. If ever there was a modern marvel in the making, it is this.
"Wills Dissolve" like the preceding song, begins in a simplistic manner; the lone-bass playing of Caxide meshes with the various electronic noises provided by Bryant C. Meyer fluttering in the background. With help of up-tempo drumming and swirling riffs the song evolves to a sound all too familiar to Isis fans, which is only complete with the addition of Turner's patented growls. "Syndic Cells" is structured very much in the same way and contains alternating passages that borrow in style from Neurosis, Godflesh, and the Explosions in the Sky.
Current Tool and former Peach bassist Justin Chancellor makes a guest appearance on the track "Altered Course." However this does not mean Chancellor's contribution created any drastic changes in the Isis formula. "Altered Course" fits in perfectly with the rest of the album; it's a perfect blend of atmospheric rock, accentuated with spacey-like experimentation that brings to mind Cave In's Jupiter. Things round out perfectly with "Grinning Mouths," demonstrating that Isis have matured into a force that is beyond the limitations of a genre-specific label. And in the closing moments of the album, it occurs to me that I have listened to one of the quintessential albums of my lifetime.
While the album is separated into tracks, in no way do I condone listening to just one track at a time for this album should be experienced as a whole. Some may complain about the length of the songs. However, I found their length to be trivial; every moment of each song is key, and the deletion of any instance would throw off the entire arrangement.
Regardless of whatever accusations may be made about the band's slight change in style, the fact remains that Isis have continued to outperform their peers in creating challenging music that is both destructive and beautiful in its own right. Panopticon is a flawless album and deserving of all the hype that surrounds it.
10.0 / 10
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