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Panopticon – Kentucky - 50%

Asag_Asakku, September 24th, 2012

Like Odysseus, my journey into the heart of obscure and dark black metal has allowed me to hear all kinds of oddities. From strange stylistic crosses to bestial monstrosities, I thought I heard everything. I was wrong. Right from America’s heartland, a musician tried the weirdest mix I’ve had the misfortune to discover: an album merging folk, country and black metal, with socially engaged lyrics. Result of this cosmic anomaly is called Kentucky, recently launched by a band named Panopticon.

This baroque opus traces the misadventures of coal miners in the state of Kentucky, a region where coal is extracted for almost two hundred years. Entirely composed by Austin Lunn, a colossus with endless Rasta, the album destabilizes whoever raises the ear. It is indeed a banjo air that starts Bernheim Forest in Spring, before being accompanied by a typically Bluegrass orchestration, a kind of music originating from the southern Appalachians. It is, however, Bodies Under the Falls that reveals the author’s intentions. The pace is accelerating sharply, even abruptly. Guitars and drums burst, starting an air reminiscent of those oddly found on Swiss’ Eluveitie first album, especially flute playing that is developing in parallel. Hybridization is ongoing and nothing will stop it. All songs oscillate between several stylistic orientations that have absolutely nothing in common and whose fusion seems often artificial.

In addition, author adopts a social cause. It explains the many interviews excerpts or folkish songs heard throughout the album. Taking the miners’ side, lyrics depict poverty, labor struggles and other indignities suffered by American miners during a long history marked by conflicts between proletarians and owners. Nothing could be farther from Satan and his followers!

I usually enjoy stylistic innovations that challenge a sometimes stifling traditional black metal orthodoxy, but come on! Panopticon belongs to this typically American movement that seeks to redefine black metal, both musically and lyrically, crossing it with anything, denaturing it, and Kentucky is the result of such an experiment. However, most interesting passages of the album are those directly inspired by Bluegrass, while more typically metal sections are rather boring. It’s the mix that sound false and has nothing to do with black metal, despite the band’s claims. Euronymous must be turning in his cave.

If you are hungry for all sorts of oddities, you will be served. If you prefer to simply discover Bluegrass, I suggest you listen to the excellent and underrated Cohen Brothers movie O Brother, Where Art Thou? which baths in this southern and catchy music. 5/10

Originally written for Métal Obscur.