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Originally posted on my reviews blog at heavymetalspotlight.blogspot.com
Panopticon are an American black-metal outfit which are, on the back of their latest release; Kentucky, really making waves and turning heads. Combining elements of American, for want of a better word, traditional music with black metal, in an extremely tasteful way. It's safe to say that the band is doing something quite fresh, in terms of the bouquet of things which can be combined with black-metal.
It's a shame, really, that I don't know anything about the kind American music which the album incorporates. For simplicities sake, I'll refer to it as American folk music, if the reader will pardon my ignorance. Before hearing all of the positive hype about the album, I'd perhaps have been a little sceptical of the combination of styles involved, but having listened, I can quite happily report that the combination works well, and that the hype is entirely justified; Perhaps to some austere spirit of black-metal, the combination "shouldn't" work, but it does. It simply does. The songs keep a wide-open, epic feel which folk laced black metal often has, but the style of folk in question takes the bands sound to very interesting, perhaps uncharted places. The music feels mellow, honey-coated, slightly, and possesses a wistful, nostalgic feel, with a lot of earthy, no-nonsense beauty. In many ways, it's not really a supernatural album, of course; It's wonderfully engrained in life, and you can really feel it in the sound-waves. I'd almost be tempted to describe the album as upbeat, and while many of the songs themselves aren't about happy things, there is something to this; I discovered the band by reading Zero Tolerance magazine (I recommend it), where the man behind the album was interviewed. The part which sticks in my head the most was a fragment of a quote by him. "...I'm not a grim dude - I'm a father, a husband, a brewer, a nice guy [...]". Listening to the album, I feel that this attitude is certainly extremely apparent in the music, and indeed enjoyable.
The sections which are entirely devoid of black metal are a brave manoeuvre, but in many cases share an equal beauty - It's true of the whole album that it sounds something akin to the warm sun upon ones face, but this is especially true of the "acoustic" sections, which have a definite rustic, comfortable charm. The album contains many spoken word samples, mainly of miners and that pertaining to them, a theme very prominent throughout. These samples certainly bolster the atmosphere further, particularly the American feeling which the album has to it - not the superficial America, but the real America, and all of the charm and musical richness thereof. All in all, the album is a fascinating piece of work, and one which certainly stands strong, in that I could quite happily listen to again and again. The lead guitar parts, in particular, have a wholesome, sometimes slightly mournful tone to them, and really drew me hypnotically in while I was listening. "Black Soot and Red Blood, towards the end, is exceedingly good examples of this.
I knew that I'd have to have a proper listen to this album as soon as I'd become aware of it's existence, and I'm glad I did - It's an excellent opus, both fascinating and enthralling in the soundscapes it creates, and all things considered, it's a really rewarding and pleasant listen.