ISIS – Panopticon (2004)

Review by: Jonathan Moss
Album assigned by: Syd Spence

Apparently this is a concept album based on Jeremy Bentham’s idea of how a prison should be designed, as some sort of reflection on modern society and how its totally fucked bro, etc. I don’t care about any of that though, but man this is a neat album!

So I guess Godflesh is the obvious comparison, but how can you not make it? This album sounds quite obviously inspired by Godflesh. Pounding industrial metal with growley vocals. They definitely aren’t ripping off Godflesh though, if they were I would write a review of Streetcleaner in protest. No, this takes the sound Godflesh started in new and exciting directions! I don’t know why, because the record isn’t that synth laden, but it reminds me somewhat of Aphex Twin. Maybe it’s just the vibe, kind of depressing, but in a spacey way, and quite British as well, so bleak, like all those buildings we have, both rural and industrial. So, this is some sort of metal album, but it features long passages of clean, kind of chiming, proggish guitar playing, almost a sort of negative psychedelia. This, when juxtaposed with the harsh, grinding passages, makes for a thrilling combination. Of course, it helps that this isn’t spastic, the album maintains a tense, sombre mood throughout, with the clean passages helping give it a melancholic vibe and the noisy ones expressing anger and stopping it from becoming boring, like a porcupine tree album. It also helps to give the album a certain depth, though without seeming pretentious, which is surprising considering the concept.

Who wants an album where you have to read Foucault to get the lyrics? I know I do.

It’s somewhat hard to go into individual songs, the album working so well together as a cohesive whole, but I don’t want this review to be short so enjoy this shitty filler paragraph. Well, the opening song “So Did We” is serves its function very well, it made me realise the album was going to be worth listening to straight away, and well worth writing about (which is why I’m so late with this review). It establishes the dynamics of the album quickly and has some great riffs. Which reminds me, this album is seriously catchy, most of the songs have at least one riff worth paying attention to. And the riffs to the quiet sections, those are as beautiful as a man who doesn’t open a tinder conversation with a photo of his dick. The last song is cool as well, featuring a slightly grungier, more monolithic sound, and some cool effects, creating a dirge like effect. It also has some truly elegiac guitar passages.

Anyway, time for some criticism, and I guess I have the same criticism I had of that Ann Peebles album, which is that this can be somewhat monotonous. I get that this is a concept album, so it wants to maintain a similar mood, and it definitely doesn’t harm the album that much, but I do wish they had included some variety, I just can’t think of what else they could have done. Maybe a song that crosses from melancholia to outright despair, or a really angry industrial metal song, but then the album might lose some of its individuality, so what the fuck do I know?

Either way, this album is fabulous and will enter my rotation.
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Author: tomymostalas

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