Aaron Turner might be the smartest man in metal. His label(s), HydraHead (he also owns a share of Tortuga), has become the benchmark for quality in the doom/metal community, boasting a lineup that includes Pelican and Jesu as well as startling newcomers 27 and Mare, while his design firm, Feral Pig, consistently pushes the boundaries of good taste/personal freedom with its art-as-crime scene manifest. And then there's the little matter of his band, Isis, whose stranglehold on all things prog-metal has grown even stronger with the release of the stunning Panopticon
Drawing its title and inspiration from the often stifling and surveillance-addled Panoptic belief structure, the album is a study in patience as a virtue. Its slow-burning movements, as grandiose as they are eerie, create a sense of paranoia and tension that's both strangely compelling and cripplingly frightening; when it's quiet, you can practically hear a pin drop (the placid opening of "Wills Dissolve") or a camera swivel in your direction, but when it reveals its talons (as on the triple-guitar onslaught "In Fiction"), be prepared for a bloodbath of terrifying proportions, administered with shocking speed and merciless consistency.
Panopticon won't completely eradicate the comparisons to Mogwai or Godflesh that the band has endured since its inception, but the album's sense of palpable neurosis and undying belief in the power of the riff are more than enough to suggest that they've risen above the huddled masses to take their place beside the metal gods' throne. Their songs run in cyclical, if not predictable patterns of bravery, repetition and noise: God-fearing riffs circumvent drums that sound like someone trying to kick his way out of a metal box, only to be washed away by a rush of harsh solitude and the ominous underpinnings of the next brutal cycle. Turner's vitriolic howl is used sparingly in these seven songs, allowing the compositions' spectral nightmarishness to hold sway over listeners' fears.
Once again, Isis has reminded us why they're at the forefront of the metal intelligentsia: they've delivered an album of boundless determination, grounded by the very principles that fostered its inception. You'll get the creeping suspicion, listening to Panopticon, that Aaron Turner and his cohorts haven't yet found the limit of their abilities, and that they, as well as like-minded bands like Tool and Between the Buried and Me, are destined to forever change people's perceptions of metal.