From the band’s inception in 1997, Isis have consistently shown their ability to transform the hardcore sound, while never forgetting their aggressive, dense and powerful essence. With every release, Isis become more artistic and less brutal. Their last album, 2003’s Oceanic, was a mixture of classic hardcore and progressive, instrumental rock. On Panopticon, Isis’s latest release, they deliver more long, epic songs — all of the tracks registering at more than six minutes — indicative of Oceanic. Following such an ambitious and experimental record is a task that Isis perform with the grace and skill of a veteran group.

The record’s opener, “So Did We,” begins with enormous guitar riffs, driving percussion and lead singer Aaron Turner screaming his lungs out. However, Isis’s experimental side reveals itself shortly thereafter. With the drums still present, the band falls into a minute-and-a-half section of clean guitars. When the band returns to its hardcore roots, the most obvious change from its older material becomes present: vocals sung rather than screamed. Many times throughout Panopticon, Turner’s decision to sing rather than scream, adds a new perspective to many of Isis’s songs, but occasionally hurts the band’s power.

The choice to have sung vocals on Panopticon shows Isis’s furthering of their artistic approach to the hardcore sound, for better or worse. It adds a wholly new aspect to the songs, but Turner has yet to perfect the blending of the two. Occasionally, his vocals sound out of place. With the power of the music, and the essentially lackluster and weak vocals, Turner is drowned out.

However, he does occasionally succeed. The untrained croons may be an attempt to relay a message not generally perceived on past material, but Isis sends a powerful message with the liner notes and cover art.

The second track, “Backlit,” is more of the same stellar immensity. The band intermittently changes from heavy guitar riffs to undistorted intertwining lines. This continues until nearly the four-minute mark, when the band begins a three-minute crescendo. Its ability to layer a new guitar or bass line and keep the buildup interesting is astonishing. It culminates with Turner and his now sonically destructive band creating an aural onslaught until the end of the song.

Panopticon’s greatest strength — and oddly enough, one of its weaknesses — is that it simply delivers more of the same: more powerful epics, more thrashing guitars and more overbearing instrumentation. Following an album like Oceanic can be devastating to a band’s career. Too much change, B-sides and an enlarged ego are all possible problems. Isis miraculously avoid all of these and create new material while staying true to their newly found, revolutionary sound. Isis proves with Panopticon that they have carved their niche in the musical world.


Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

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