Oceanic (Ipecac í02) Rating: A-
Iím not nearly as up to date on modern heavy metal as I should be, as much of it is too unmelodic for me, but but when I heard this album playing in a cd shop I had to have it. The bandís titanic sound is well, oceanic in its icy vastness, combining the moodiness of Faith No More with the heft of Kyuss, the space-between-the-notes dynamics of ďpost rockĒ bands like Mogwai, and the vocal intensity of Pantera. The end result is not easy listening by any means (the heavy parts aren't, anyway), and Isis will probably be too extreme for most tastes. I myself have never been a big fan of the ďcookie monsterĒ vocal style, and Iíll be damned if I can make out a single word barked out by lead screecher Aaron Turner. Fortunately, if you consider his voice as merely another instrument the mix works very well, and most of Oceanic is instrumental, anyway. Aside from a couple of short songs in the middle of the album, most of these nine songs approach 8, 9, and even 10 minutes in length. As such, this is not an album for short attention spans, as itís best appreciated after several uninterrupted listens in its entirety. Surprisingly, unlike many other ďprogressive metalĒ bands, Isis doesnít try to dazzle us with their instrumental virtuosity, as these are by and large simple songs. Instead, itís the bandís calm-before-the-storm dynamics that impress, and when those storms hit they do so with enormous force. Yet it is also the long buildups, many of which are quite beautiful, that makes this album such a satisfying listen. Had the band only offered bludgeoning repetition things would get boring fast, but itís the albumís subtle shifts and mood enhancing segments that make the eventual explosions so powerful. Sometimes the album is too sludgy and long-winded for its own good, but the bulk of Oceanic is a truly fascinating journey thatís well worth taking.

Panopticon (Ipecac í04) Rating: A-
Another cool album cover, and another great album that cemented Isis' status as one of the best, most significant heavy metal bands of the 2000s. Basically, Panopticon was a further refinement of Oceanic (actually the band's second full length album after 2000's Celestial), with a more polished sound that's even more atmospheric and post-rock-y, plus Turner is more apt to sing with clean vocals as opposed to growling/grunting/shouting, which is a plus. Again the band makes great use of light-to-shade dynamics, often going from ethereal beauty to awe-inspiring power and then back again, and though vocals still aren't a strength, the band's lyrics remain an unintelligible mystery to me (but again the album is largely instrumental), and the album drags at times, by and large Panopticon is a superb album length statement (and it's meant to be listened to as an overall album, which is why I'm not mentioning individual songs, excellent though most of them are). Again, with songs generally ranging between 7 and 10 minutes long, Isis asks a lot from their listeners, and it may take a few spins for the album's majesty to truly grab hold, but Panopticon is that rare metal album in that it can appeal to non-metal fans as well as to the hardcore headbanging set. With terrifically moody and melodic buildups leading into exciting surges and more than a few pummeling exclamation points (when Isis goes heavy, they go heavy), few bands do mellow or heavy as well as Isis; that they can do both styles so well, at opposite ends of the musical spectrum, just makes them that much more special.

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