[b]“…The Panopticon is a machine for dissociating the see/being seen dyad: in the peripheric ring, one is totally seen, without ever seeing; in the central tower, one sees everything without being seen”[/b]
When a band decide to create a whole album that revolves around Michel Foucault’s conceptual prison, the results should tread a wholly predictable path; at worst said band creates a soulless monstrosity, high on pretension but low on any real music; at best said band creates the equivalent of Deloused In The Comatorium, a record of undeniably impressive quality but one that lacks emotional resonance. Fortunately Isis don’t do predictable and Panopticon is all the better for it.
In all honesty, there isn’t one single word in the English language that can describe just how immense Isis sound. Theirs is the sound of continental plates crashing against one another, of respite at the bottom of the ocean from the raging storm above; in fact the sound is so natural it’s easy to forget that you’re listening to music per se. Although it’s a horribly overblown cliché this, more than anything else, is the soundtrack to the end of the world*. So Did We opens with a bruising minor chord progression punctuated by Aaron Turner’s guttural roar before swiftly disintegrating into the kind of oceanic ambience that only Isis can produce: guitars, bass and electronics merge seamlessly into a celestial whole that envelopes you in warmth. The song peaks once again in quick succession before unerringly building towards a towering finale as vast sheets of distortion and soaring reverb wrap themselves around the biggest drum sound this side of a Led Zeppelin record.
There are innumerable other highlights; Altered Course, all blissed-out electronics and drowsy percussion, is akin to Godspeed You! Black Emperor jamming at the bottom of the ocean whilst In Fiction cocoons itself in five minutes of atmospherics before unleashing a towering stoner riff and then subsiding back into the haze. However dissecting single songs is an ultimately futile exercise as Panopticon, like My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless, is a record that demands the listener to experience the complete work and therein lies its beauty; while it may not be the most immediately likeable record you’ll hear this year, give it time and it will very probably be the best.
*Please note it’s impossible not to sound hideously pretentious when writing about this band.