As an American, I’ve always felt our black metal bands lacked the history and emotion that the Scandinavian scene was founded on. Black metal from America seemed like an oxymoron; as a nation, we’re not privy to the centuries-worth of religious and political strife that fueled the anti-Christian fires for a small group of Norwegian youths over twenty years ago. But every once in a while, a band comes along that draws upon our history to create something unique.
Panopticon is one such band, and their latest album 'Kentucky' is an emotional journey through the blackened history of the titular state. The one-man project of Austin Lunn, self-described as “anarcho-pagan black metal,” Panopticon incorporates a wide range of influences into its raw black metal, including crust and anarcho-punk, ambient music and most notably, American folk and bluegrass.
The fourth full-length album in Panopticon’s catalogue, 'Kentucky' is without a doubt the best balance and integration of Lunn’s influences. Where in the past the folk and bluegrass interludes were window dressing to the raw black metal, here Lunn has woven these elements together seamlessly. The intro track, 'Bernheim Forest in Spring' begins with simple guitar and banjo strumming before transitioning into a foot-stomping jam of fiddles, mandolin, guitar, and banjo, until without warning the opening drum fill and blood-curdling scream of 'Bodies under the Falls' explode from the speakers, and we are treated to some of the most melodic and passionate guitar work Lunn has ever crafted.
This juxtaposition sets the tone for the entire album. Songs like 'Black Soot and Red Blood' and 'Killing the Giants as they Sleep' wouldn’t be out of place on a Wolves in the Throne Room album, while soulful mining songs like 'Come All Ye Coal Miners' and 'Which Side are you On?' offer insight to the tumultuous history of the coal industry. These styles ebb and flow throughout, creating a varied and compelling listening experience.
Despite the stark differences in style, at no point do the folk and metal elements clash; nor does one outshine the other. They are crafted with the same tone and atmosphere, making 'Kentucky' feel cohesive. It’s a testament to Lunn’s songwriting ability that he can take such disparaging elements and combine them create something beautiful.
Lunn’s music has always been deeply personal; every note, every word on Kentucky rings out with an honesty most other acts in the genre sorely lack, and makes it much easier to connect emotionally with the music. 'Kentucky' is the first record I know of that delves into one of the many nuances of American history in a truly compelling and honest way, proving we have our own rich history and folklore to draw upon. This is American Black Metal at its finest.
Posted: Fri 6 July 2012