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Panopticon was one of the best bands in the USBM underground, creating some truly stunning pieces of music that astounded listeners with a unique fusion of black metal, crust, post-rock and even some southern folk/bluegrass influences. Austin Lunn, mastermind and sole member of Panopticon, experimented with American folk and bluegrass on 2009's Collapse, but on Kentucky, his fourth full-length record, Lunn jumps head-first into the eclectic blend that many now call "blackgrass".
It was a good decision. Panopticon is now arguably the best black metal band in North America.
Leaping between stomping, Appalachian bluegrass tunes and extraordinarily emotional black metal blasters, Kentucky is one hell of a wild ride. Austin is an impeccable musician, handling all instruments and vocals here (he is easily above average on all of them, and his drumming is some of the best in the genre), and his songwriting skills are amazing, throwing the listener through every emotional spectrum known to man within Kentucky's 51-minute running time. The samples tastefully woven into a few tracks are some of the most effective I've ever heard, being utilized in an even more powerful way than Godspeed You! Black Emperor's
"Lift Yr. Skinny Fists..."
The traditional bluegrass tunes, such as "Come All Ye Coal Miners" and "Which Side Are You On?" are rollicking coal mining songs, telling tales of the working man's struggle for a piece of the pie through their up-tempo, southern rhythms and impassioned vocal delivery, whereas the black metal numbers, "Bodies Under The Falls" and "Black Soot And Red Blood" are absolutely brimming with emotion, immersing the listener in waves of traditional flute and choir ambience, massive riffs that could tear through a brick wall, and awe-inspiring climaxes that flatten the listener with absolutely incomparable displays of emotion (the climax about 7 minutes into "Bodies" is one of the most beautiful moments I've heard in the genre). Even more noteworthy is the exhilarating one-two punch of "Killing The Giants As They Sleep" and "Black Waters", an absolutely livid slab of melodic black metal leading into a haunting, reverb-soaked acoustic outro that plays out like the aftermath of some terrible battle. Breathtaking and haunting.
With its incredible songwriting, flawless musicianship, and incomparable atmosphere, Panopticon's Kentucky is bound to come out on top as 2012's album of the year (unless the new Skagos record comes out, that is.) Regardless, Austin Lunn is a genius, and with Kentucky, he has created the best black metal album in recent memory. If you have even the slightest interest in melodic or progressive black metal, bluegrass, or post-rock, pick this up without hesitation.