It was September 2004 and I remember there was a leak of this one on Soulseek. I can't remember being more thrilled about downloading some album before. Aca from Indjija had just found a leak one day before us and said that album was a complete masterpiece. So, we others had to check it out as soon as was possible.
I was lucky because a friend Marija went to Vienna for a couple of days in October. I told her to look for Panopticon and voila! She returned with the disc. Can't explain how happy I was. The album was still fresh in my ears and I could listen to it in full quality. Soon enough I burned the CD to everyone I knew. Nikola Vranjkovic fell on his ass too and soon enough he started to play the album on every gig he was working as a soundguy at. I was often with him and witnessed lots of people coming to us asking what band it was we were playing on PA.
Sure, Oceanic was a great album, but Panopticon hit all the right spots at the same time. And the time was right. I just don't know how many times I played So Did We. To an untrained ear the song seemed like it married stoner, postrock and prog, but the rest of us heard so much other stuff, both musically and non-musically speaking. The part of the song at 6.14 when the distortions kick back in were so unbelievable my breathing stopped every fucking time. The reverbed solo in the background made it so colourful and added depth even greater than the eyes gazing at the front cover.
This album simply had no fillers and soon enough everyone of us had different favorite tracks. Aca liked Backlit best, Vanja In Fiction, some were giving Altered Course most of the spins. The whole Panopticon was a huge portion of heavenly distortions and heavy atmosphere. Soon enough all the bands in the metal underground were giving Isis props, some even tried to emulate the genre. The genre got the name postmetal.
Panopticon gave me a relief in terms of making and playing music. Not only it helped me to move away further from the boring old verse/chorus systematics the songs could be made of, it also gave me the strength to focus more on the power of riffs and everything you could do with the guitar, something I always preferred than singing. I also learned that the singings could happen just once or twice or never during the song, depending on the feeling of the song. Panopticon was so huge it could remain as the most influential record of the 00's for me for sure.
We were lucky enough to see the band live in Zagreb in May next year and the experience was simply mindblowing. Pera, Aca and I were also interviewing Aaron Turner after the show and not only he did a great one with lots of thoughtful answers, he also shared some weed with us. How fucking cool was that. There was this memorable moment during the interview when Pera asked Aaron, if you could be anyone in the world for just one day, who would you be? and Aaron replied Jimi Hendrix. Pera asked why and even before Aaron could say anything, Aca replied instead: you get high every day!
Anyway, the greatness of Isis was becoming huge all across the globe and they had some hardcore fans in Belgrade as well.
Pera and I agreed that San was Serbia's greatest album ever made by any Serbian band. Until this one showed up. I was already an insider back then when this album wasn't finished yet, so it feels a bit funny talking about it now. I remember I witnessed some mixdowns of Majdan and the only thing I knew for sure was that I just couldn't wait for the song and the album to get released. From that first moment when I heard the song, I know I wanted to get the song, lock myself in and listen to it for hours. Days.
Yes, Majdan was that good. All the things that I liked about Najduzi Je Poslednji Sat, Protiv Sebe or Finansijska Konstrukcija were emphasized on Majdan so much, it later appeared to be the best Block Out's song ever made. I only have fond memories of this album and the making of it - I remember the day Nikola lent me this new delay pedal he got, the green box named Line 6 DL4. It was the most amazing piece of work anyone could make out of a delay (not one delay, but fourteen kinds of them! And a loop sampler) I was so thankful that something like that one existed. When I listened to Majdan for the first time at my flat, I remember the delay trails I heard in the chorus, I smiled right away cause I recognized the preset from the pedal. Not just any pedal, it was the exact same pedal that was laying beside me at that moment. The weird stuff like that meant so much to me.
Andrej and Tehno...logija were another two great tracks that made my Block Out best of list right away. The distortions of Andrej were heaviest yet, concerning Block Out songs, while the vocal layerings were adding the spiritual depth that would recreate the atmosphere of Tarkovsky's Stalker, the movie the song was based upon/made hommage to. Boki, a mutual friend of Nikola and myself, lent me Stalker to watch a year later, I think, and it was exceptional experience of not just witnessing cinematic perfection, but an insight on Nikola's influences as well. Tehno...logija had strong lyrics and it explained the state of Serbia's past and present on its youth. In musical terms it could be described as more mature version of Tri Korne Penal. It also had a nice Moonchild-like synth theme between the first chorus and the second verse.
Nikola's lyrics were stronger than ever before and Ako Imas S Kim I Gde was one of the most important - if not the most important record in Serbia, Pera would agree - and the greatness of the album wasn't received in public right away. But it would be in the next couple of years, month by month, gig by gig. People from other countries that didn't belong to former Yugoslavia could never understand the importance of this record. But the people living here knew it and loved it.
There was always this thing about Isis and Cult Of Luna, who did it first, who did it better blah blah. The truth is that they both appeared at the same time and released albums in the same year. They both developed their sound further and went lighter, so to speak. Isis broke huge with Oceanic, Cult Of Luna did too with The Beyond and now Isis released Panopticon, followed by the Luna's Salvation.
Salvation is a great record. It was more postrock than Panopticon but also more linear. It was more earth than air, if you like. And that earthy in the sound had more stable groove. You see, Isis were more prog and doing the rhythm changes. Cult Of Luna were constant in hammering the skull at the same spot until it broke. That was at least how Pera and I were feeling when we traveled to Budapest in February 2005 to see them live. We also did a good interview with the drummer too, but too bad Pera was only pretending he was recording it by pressing play instead of pressing record. Oh well. The gig rocked anyway.
Leave Me Here and Echoes were the strongest tracks, although Crossing Over had a good vibe too, being the mellowest one introducing the clean vocals ending the song. The Swedes were more experimenting with the personnel, as they seemed to grow even further after this one (there was seven or eight of them on stage when we saw them in Budapest). Maybe unfair thing to say, but anyone who was new to this postmetal thing or whatever it was called, and wanted more stuff that was similar to Isis, couldn't mistake for picking this one up.
Wow. The actual masters and inventors of the whole post- thing did it too. They sort of calmed down and made an ambient record of their own. As Pera put it nicely in his review of The Eye, the opener Burn sounded like a man whose spine was bending and finally cracked in the end - the anger of this record was so restrained.
Shelter, even being an instrumental, was a perfect example of the deserted space, rusty trees and vast skies Neurosis were telling stories about. Yup, they were storytellers after all and the blood and the message it carried, that made A Sun That Never Sets, got stripped down to the bone and stones of loss.
This was not a record that gave its secrets easily. The listener not only needed to have time for this album in terms of hours and seconds - the listener needed to feel like William Blake in Dead Man. With a burden on his chest, focused on the spirit of his own and feeling like owning all the time in the world laying on his hands even though he could drop dead any minute. Meditation was the key. A Season In The Sky was perhaps the most visually vivid dream of distant fires crossed with inner subconscious calls for a God who eventually let the spirit go.
The older I was, the more I liked this record.
5. Jesu - Jesu (Hydra Head)
After the demise of Godflesh back in 2001 and the outstanding Hymns album that was the band's swansong, Justin Broadrick couldn't rest. He took the closing track off the Hymns album (it was the best one too), entitled Jesu, and used the name for his solo project. The second part of the song was more relaxed with clean singings instead of howls and shouts and Jesu the band would sound just similar to it.
2004's Heartache EP was giving good signs of the band, so the debut full length wasn't fully unexpected when it came out. Jesu came out at the tail of 2004 although I listened to it mostly during 2005. We've also seen Jesu supporting Isis in Zagreb in May 2005, yet the impression wasn't that good. It was a good performance but it lacked something. But the album was great. Justin was experimenting with psychedelic shoegaze and doom and the BPM's got slower. Friends Are Evil remained my favorite Jesu track ever - oh, the guitar sounds it had... The distortions cracked the ceiling. I often play it acoustically nowadays with Amaranth just to pay a small homage.
Sun Day and We All Faulter were also highlights. Sun Day was so slow and delightful that doom and pop music got more intimate than ever before. The kiss of the sun's radiance was emphasized by the delay trails of Justin's voice echoing. Justin used the power of Godflesh and slowed it down a hundred times, while the riffs weren't painful for body anymore - they became painful for the mind. With all the emotion of helplessness flowing around. Jesu was something fresh and new and all the doomers of the world felt happy again.
I noticed Fennesz on Isis' Oceanic Remixes and Ulver's Decade In The Machines compilations. He was one of the collaborators who did the marvelous cover of Isis' Weight so I started to investigate a bit more about all the artists included. 2001's Endless Summer was Fennesz's breakthrough album on the ambient/glitch map and Venice stood up even more as a follow up.
The opener Rivers Of Sand was this beautiful ambient track with loops and delays that brought bright shining waterfalls of shoegaze and droning melancholy. Laguna, on the other hand, with the lush guitar playing was reminding me of Lanterna, another instrumental rock band I got hooked on some time before. Transit brought guest appearance from David Sylvian, another imaginative avantgarde artist whose voice was so recognizable in such a sparse environment as Fennesz was creating with his electric waves. The Point Of It All was a drone shower making Fennesz a Brian Eno interpretor of the modern times and the 21st century.
7. Tim Hecker - Mirages (Alien8)
This was an EP alright, but I loved the band so much with the Nurses EP. Manchester's answer to Radiohead and Jane's Addiction they were and they did it properly. I liked the previous Effloresce but it seemed like a couple of songs too long at the time I heard it. The one huge song ending this EP, divided into three songs Drag The 'nal / Dead Dogs An' All Sorts / As The Smoke Clears; was the biggest surprise I heard all year. The atmosphere they created was unique and I became a fan instantly. The silent / loud cookies with chocolate prog bars added the cream on top.
I managed to do an email interview with Mike Vennart and he promised the next full length would be more like those three ending tracks. He also liked my use of the word shite. Great minds think alike? Who knows. The important thing is that Oceansize was this new underground band that rocked like crazy.
This was the best twenty minutes from the band and the best song they ever wrote as well. Period. They blasted syncopated thrash metal madness with Allan-Holdsworth-on-acid solos and drum parts that would make any jazz player cry. Again, in barely twenty two minutes. Listening to Meshuggah full length in one take always gave me headaches eventually so I was the right dose of schizophrenic tech metal insanity. Go figure.
Mastodon really surprised everybody with Leviathan. Sure, the debut Remission was excellent, but nobody expected this progression in only two years. Mastodon were heavy and enjoyable.
Only one spin of Blood And Thunder and everybody knew Mastodon had something big in their hands. Yeah, a Moby Dick. Leviathan was a conceptual record about a sailor catching a whale and music really fit well - the riffs were massive as whales who rocked the ships during the storm. I needed more spins to absorb this record properly and it payed off well. The crisp production of Matt Bayles really let the riffs shine.
I love this man. Sure, Alice and Blood Money were great records and I loved them too, but this one was a crazy one. He was pushing the experimental blues thing further. Hoist That Rag was the absolute hit and the Sins Of My Father was an epic ten minute piece only Tom Waits could pull off in such a dirty yet sophisticated, bluesy charismatic manner. Make It Rain and Shake It had the beat and the groove and the voice. Oh, the voice. You just had to believe him. And the guitar work of Marc Ribot was just mastery. Les Claypool's guest appearances were also ace.
This was the ultimate blues record of the 2000's, drunken, dirty, brave and strong as ten thousand bottles of Jack being smashed on the piano. The piano loved it too.
I loved Lanterna's Elm Street that came out in 2001. It had B Minor and Thirty, two tracks of immense atmospheric guitar beauty. Sands (2002) was also good, leading to Highways that in all fairness was a proper followup to Sands and didn't evolve that much but I liked it nevertheless.
This was the ultimate summer album, with sun shining all over the seashores. Adriatic was this special wonderful piece whose sounds described the coast better than any words ever could. Delay and reverb racks were used and I was glad. Brightness was the dynamic track of traveling, you know the feeling of a drive-by while the trees and highways pass you by while you're getting somewhere (or either running away from it).
Acoustic guitars shimmered infinitely through Highways and all the travels never seemed more enjoyable.