Review by Sonny for Isis - Panopticon (2004)
Metal is the object of much sneering from the elitist arbiters of cultural worth, probably due to it's blue-collar origins and appeal and general lack of liberal bias. In the past it may well have brought some of this dismissive attitude on itself, but since the turn of the millenium there have been a number of metal bands who are not content to merely rehash the same metal tropes and to elevate their work beyond a mere collection of songs, but rather to use their musical songwriting to produce pieces that can be considered as being actual art. Isis are one such band, emerging from the sludge metal scene, they began adding layers of atmosphere and more subltle sonic textures to the sludge-inspired heaviness, until, by the time of Panopticon, the album was more like an aural oil painting, composed of varying shades and textures of sound to make an imaginative and atmospheric whole that transcends the restrictions of the scene that originally spawned them.
At times meditatively calm and gentle, at others febrile and raging, the light and shade of human emotion are laid bare in musical form, this interpreting of the human condition being one of the central tenets of what makes good art. This, in common with the rest of Isis' work (and atmospheric sludge in general) is not really for the casual listener and is one of those albums where you get more out, the more you are prepared to put into appreciating it.
Now I'm not claiming this to be any revelatory work of unparralelled genius, in fact I actually prefer previous album Oceanic, but I think that albums like this can only enhance the reputation of metal music in the wider world outside the genre's diehard adherents and as such should be heralded as taking metal to a new level of cultural significance.