Influential Album: Andrew Yonki of Caustic Casanova discusses Isis’ Panopticon


Caustic Casanova is a loud, heavy rock trio from Washington, DC. The CC, as they are affectionately known by their fans, has been tearing up stages and studios alike with their unique brand of eclectic, “absurdly muscled uber-psyche” (Indy Week) since their inception on the campus of The College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia in 2005.  In 2008 CC released their first ever full-length studio album, a fourteen song, seventy-two minute tour-de-force entitled Imminent Eminence. Four years later, Caustic Casanova unleashed 2012’s critically acclaimed Someday You Will Be Proven Correct, produced by J. Robbins.

In 2012, the band went through a lineup change, losing their original guitarist, while adding longtime fan, friend and all-around six string wizard Andrew Yonki. Caustic Casanova returned stronger, tighter and more motivated than ever to build sonic temples in which to worship feedback, massive riffs, delay pedals, bass fuzz, thunderous drum fills and soaring vocal melody.

The end product of these years of writing and recording through trial and tribulation is Caustic Casanova’s new album and Retro Futurist debut Breaks, once again produced by J. Robbins. Breaks features seven unconventional and melodic heavy rock songs, none quite like the other, and covers a vast sonic territory from dark, driving post-punk to psychedelic post-metal, from heavy doom blues to epic space rock and everything in between. Breaks will be released on September 25, 2015. Look for Caustic Casanova on tour in the US during August, October and November.

Today, Andrew Yonki discusses his influential album, an ode to Isis Panopticon:

“I first heard Panopticon in 2004, when I was a freshman at American University. A dude named Carni, who I’d randomly met on the metro when he overheard me talking about straight edge hardcore punk, lived a few floors below me, and insisted that he give me a crash course on the punk, hardcore, and heavy metal music that I may have missed while exploring the more mainstream offerings of the day. I can still remember a bunch of the bands that he played for me late into the evening: Pg. 99, Hassan I Sabbah, Van Johnson, his own band Rue the Day, Mass Movement of the Moth and so many others that probably don’t even exist anymore, and in fact, probably only existed for a matter of months several years prior.

Then he played me Isis. I thought I had a pretty good idea of what Isis sounded like. I’d seen their name before, in Revolver magazine, and on the t-shirt of the front man for the short-lived DC hardcore band Tradition Dies Here, who I’d seen a few weeks before at the Black Cat 10th (or was it 9th? 11th?) Anniversary concert. I figured they were a more traditional death metal band, quite frankly. I also figured that I knew the rules of heavy metal. More naive, I thought that heavy metal HAD rules!

When I was 18, I was firmly convinced that heavy metal was about aggression, technicality, in-your-face posturing, or, bluesy and sludgy grooves. I also believed that heavy metal existed within traditional song structures, verses and choruses alternating. Hearing Panopticon made it clear that there WERE no rules, that heavy metal was more than speed, aggression, and histrionics. Isis, to me, represented depth of emotion, the power of restraint, how a song can be made a sonic journey, and how few things are more powerful than a well-placed, well-timed, heavy-as-fuck RIFF.

This was the first metal record I had heard that dispensed with traditional structures. Each song was a sonic painting, each new sonic idea another layer of the landscape. The layers themselves exhibited stunning diversity, often beginning in the most minimal way possible – a subtle keyboard line, an arpeggiated figure on the bass guitar, a dissonant guitar-and-drum cadence – and building. And building. And building. The tension, the anticipation created by the band, it often reaches to a point where there is no alternative but total breakdown. The tension is often broken by full-bore guitar riffs and Aaron Turner’s harrowing bellow; other times it is broken by a sudden return to a sudden, near-pin-drop of silence. Both options, and everything in between, are equally affecting.

Isis’s use of dynamics on Panopticon truly altered my view of the guitar, from a sonic weapon to a palette of tones, textures and ability to create expansive sonic landscapes, a means of translating sound into image, how to play feelings instead of notes. Their use of dynamics were beyond anything I’d heard up to that point. In my mid teens, I’d cut my teeth playing and listening to the mainstream version of scream, where clean guitars and quietly sung vocals gave way to blood-curdling screams and gobs of distortion. Isis’ approach made the whiplash-inducing dynamic dichotomy ham-fisted in comparison. Like expert painters, the layers and the levels created by the members of the band blend just enough that they are all unified, and distinct enough as to tell that, yes, we have passed the point on the mountain where it is now covered by clouds.

Vocally, Aaron Turner did more for me than any other metal vocalist to display the true emotional range of the form. His melodies, floating over the band, seemingly chanted, expressed desperation and melancholy that I’d not heard in heavy metal before. I’d heard lyrics that were sad, despairing, morose, gloomy, but I’d never heard those feelings SHOWN in the way that Turner is able to when he sang the climax on “So Did We.” Of course, there is always a time and a place for the demon growl, and Turner delivered this in spades on Panopticon. Again, Isis was a first for me, in that the growls let loose during the trudging heavy riffs were used to exude stark emotions, such as pain, despair and desperation. This, in direct contrast to the death, destruction, and, weirdly, expressions of love and faith (2004 was a big year for Christian metalcore).

I’ve been hooked on this album since 2004, and I have continued my quest for The Heavy with great success, but one of the biggest reasons that this album stands out in my mind as so influential is the song “In Fiction,” the third song on the record. While I view this song as an excellent example of what the musical organism known as Isis is best at, I primarily wish to single this song out for having what I believe to be the all time heaviest riff in music history. I’ve mentioned “The one riff in ‘In Fiction’” several times to several different people. They all know the one I mean. Beginning with a minimalist synth line, a basic, chiming guitar figure and hollow bass; shifting forward with the introduction of sparse drum accents; after more than three minutes, the forward movement begins in earnest, with the first semblance of aggressive strumming and an actual drumbeat; Turner’s chants begin after nearly four minutes, and they usher in the first use of the big, open, distorted chords that would dominate the song. The dynamics build even higher, the existential rage growing more pronounced with what nearly appears to be a vocal harmony….and then everything collapses at 5:32 with the biggest, heaviest riff I’ve ever heard. While it would certainly be heavy in any context, its use as the breaking point of catharsis after such a long buildup elevates it to a truly sublime level. The rest of the song continues on with some truly inspired parts, including what could even be considered a guitar solo near the end, before fading out on a variation of the intro.

While “In Fiction” is just one song of seven nearly-perfect tracks, to me it encapsulates why the band, and this album, have had such an incalculable influence on me as a listener and as a performer. Had it not been for this record, there is a good chance that I would not have expanded my playing to the level demanded by my band mates, and to imagine my life not playing the music I love while challenging myself is to imagine a life where I am content in stagnation.

– Andrew Yonki/Caustic Casanova

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Twitter: @causticcasanova

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* #OpenEarsInfluencers is a series highlighting an album that had a major influence on artists, music industry folks, and music fiends alike’s love for music, an album that was really a catalyst and started it all for where they currently are in their musical journey. 


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Mike Gerry

Head music fiend at OpenEars Music

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