he question after any epochal record is immediately: where do we go from here? Some bands evade the question by going willfully obscure on their next effort, some bands disappear and other bands just keep plugging away at the same aesthetic, attempting to mine it for anything else that it has to offer. With the release of Panopticon, it seems like Isis has taken the third option and run with it, producing another stunning record that compares favorably with this year’s offering from their West Coast counterparts Neurosis, The Eye of Every Storm.
What Isis does better than Neurosis, however, is foster a sense of movement, even when they are merely treading water melodically and indulging their more ambient side. At no point during Panopticon does it feel like the group is standing in place. It’s an important point for a band associated with sludge metal, because engendering the idea that even the most placid moments are moving towards some sort of end are paramount. This feeling is more prevalent here than in previous records, most notably Oceanic.
Panopticon shares many traits with its predecessors, however. The group still utilizes the riff to reinforce any ambient interludes, Turner still unleashes vocals that are hard to unravel on first passing and the group still won’t release a song less than six minutes. It’s all familiar territory, in fact. Tracks like “Altered Course” and its throbbing bass and repeated riff boring into your brain sound positively derivative of something, but it’s unclear exactly what that is. Either way, it’s derivative of something beautiful, because the track works in the way that much of the album does: taking the pieces already laid out by other bands (Godflesh, Earth, Neurosis and the Melvins), and piecing them together exactly as they should be with little to no effort at all. It’s at once an album that sounds like it couldn’t have taken a week to make, but also one that was borne of years of preparation.
Clocking in at nearly an hour, Panopticon perhaps is one song too long, especially considering the perfect ending of “Altered Course”, but it’s hard to complain about an album of such obvious quality. In a year in which metal has seen an outpouring of strong albums by scene stalwarts like Mastodon, Neurosis, Converge, Blut Aus Nord, Sunn O))), Dillinger Escape Plan and others, you can add one more group to the list: Isis.