Isis/Pig Destroyer 

Panopticon (Ipecac)/Terrifyer (Relapse)

Photographer Hiroshi Sugimoto uses a huge camera and hours-long exposures to take photographs of the ocean at night. The wall-filling images he produces look entirely black at first, but gradually, the eye finds the subtle shades of darkness that divide sky from water. Isis's Panopticon, as heavy as it is melancholy, is a perfect aural complement to those photographs.

Frontman Aaron Turner's blast-furnace roar can be highly intimidating. On Panopticon, though, he sometimes attempts more traditional singing, which makes him sound like the actor James Remar. Other things have changed too. The guitars aren't as uniformly crunching as before -- they frequently toll like buoys far out on the ocean. When Turner shifts from one voice to the other, the guitar tones follow, and the transition is reminiscent of Opeth, even if Isis's riffing is much less complex. Where Opeth wants to dizzy the listener, Isis attempts to hypnotize and subjugate through volume and repetition, in the manner of Swans, Godflesh, and Neurosis. But Panopticon is more serenely beautiful than any of those groups' albums -- it's what Isis has been building to since it began, even if nobody realized it until now.

Pig Destroyer's new album couldn't be more different from Isis's slow-shutter, introspective post-metal, though both bands are among the most forward-thinking outfits in extreme music. The trio plays the most unrelenting grindcore around -- even more savage than its spinoff group, Agoraphobic Nosebleed. At least that band has humor on its side; Terrifyer is a one-word encapsulation of Pig Destroyer's self-image. They want to give you the creeps, as Social Distortion once sang, and they've done it.

Their last album, Prowler in the Yard, tried too hard; from its self-mutilation cover art to its muttering-madman intro, it was a low-budget horror movie on CD. Terrifyer is what they wanted to achieve all along. The lyrics are like entries from a stalker's diary, read into evidence at his murder trial. The music is what makes the disc a keeper, though.

More by Phil Freeman


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