I first found out about Isis by catching them opening for a Tool concert during the summer of 2006.  Me and my friends got to the show a bit early and we were able to get some comfy spots on the lawn with a nice view of the stage.  I happened to be in quite a relaxed mood that day and the weather was beautiful.  While we were waiting for the show to start I just laid down on the grass and stared up at the clouds and watched as the day slowly shifted into twilight.  It was during this time while I was in my little sky gazing trance that Isis took the stage.  Having never heard of the band before and happy in my own little world I just kept on gazing into the sky.  As I let myself go into pure relaxation I felt upon my back the hum of the droning bass lines that Isis was playing on stage.  Then my ears started to pick up the guitar tones, ethereal vocals and soft beat of the drums, deeper into my trance I went, still staring up at the sky.  Then the crescendo of the song that Isis was playing burst into deeper and more grand sounds, as that happened, a flock of birds glided through the sky.  And as the song reached its heaviest moments with its droning bass and weightless, wavering guitar giving my back one of the best massages ever the harsh vocals and heavier drums kicked in and I found myself completely lost in a pure trance from which I never wanted to return.  For Isis’ entire set I just left myself in that state of pure bliss, absorbing every note through osmosis, feeling the energy of the Earth pass through me, and observing the beauty of the sky.

When Isis’ set finally ended, I sat up and waited a couple of minutes to let my body return to normal, and finally stood up, albeit a little dizzy, and rejoined my friends.  Those moments at the Tool concert were some of the most transcendental out of body moments I’ve ever felt in my life.  Naturally, a couple days after the show, I went to the local cd shop and pick up a couple albums by Isis.  I gave them a bunch of spins and enjoyed them wholly and they became my “relaxing” albums.

About a year later I would be taking my first trip to Italy, this trip included a very long non-stop flight.  While I was on that flight I was stuck with a window seat and was uncomfortable(I’m quite a long person, so having the aisle seat makes my legs happy).  To help me cope with my discomfort I figured that I should pop some music on, so I grabbed my Ipod and finally decided on “Panopticon” by Isis.  After a few minutes listening to the first track “So Did We”, I found myself going into a trance while staring out the little window of the plane, watching the occasional cloud pass underneath and getting lost of the repetitious ripples of the ocean below.  The music that was playing in my ears was matching and also adding texture to what I was seeing.  Those same ethereal tones that helped my body go into a state of complete relaxation at the Tool concert were returning to save me from my physical discomfort.  By the time the first song finished and the second song “Backlit” started, I was in a complete trance admiring all the beauty I was able to see out my little window and my mind was absorbing all the sounds and textures that Isis created.  This continued throughout the entire album.  And throughout the summer, I often found myself on the beach or in the woods of the campground I was working at staring at the sky listening to this album.

The albums title “Panopticon” comes from a concept of the same name.  The panopticon was a type of prison envisioned in the late 18th century where the prison would have a circular design and the cells would would be constantly visible by a central tower, giving the prisoners the feeling of always being watched.  Aaron Turner, chief songwriter, has stated not to look too deeply into this concept and to form your own theories on the material of the album.  From my experiences with it, I understand the observation end of the concept, just not in the sense of a prison.  When I listen to this album I can just stare out and peacefully observe and enjoy what is around me.  More or less I feel the inverse of what a panopticon is, instead of looking in and seeing the ugliness, I look out and see the beauty.  Well, that’s my 2 cents on the theme.  If you’ve heard this album, let me know what you think.

Musically, “Panopticon” is difficult to describe.  It’s powerful and emotional, and constantly building on top of itself leaving a grand structured at the end.  The vocals shift from soft and ethereal, to coarse and harsh but never feel out of place and always add to the atmosphere of the songs.  The rest of the instruments follow the same suit.

This album is a worthy purchase, and in my opinion is Isis’ best album.  Give it a shot if your looking for something “metal” to relax to and lose yourself in.

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