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After hearing Panopticon's "Collapse" album, I was curious to know if A Lundr would continue with the fusion black metal / bluegrass music that was such a major highlight on that album. On this split recording with a Canadian BM act Skagos, Panopticon has indeed ditched the banjo which depending on your taste may be fortunate or unfortunate. Myself, I was in two minds about not having the banjo as I did like the black metal / bluegrass combination but I can see that it has the potential to overpower everything else Lundr may want to do in Panopticon and turn the band into something twee and kitschy. What Lundr has done instead is substitute other instruments such as cello, synthesiser and acoustic instruments and opt for a dramatic post-rock style to go with the more aggressive BM aspects. Together with lyrics about rejecting institutional monotheistic religion that brainwashes and terrifies people into a psychological slave mentality, and turning towards faith in yourself and your potential and discovering the universal creative force within your own being, the result is a strong melodic trilogy collectively titled "On the Subject of Mortality II" featuring songs with sweeping riffs and melodies that come close to tragic yet hopeful majesty.
The lyrics generate much of the emotion and passion that drive the music so it's a bit unfortunate that the vocals are thin and set far back in the mix. Otherwise the music has a lot to commend it. "A Message to the Missionary" is an angry song that breaks with the old self-defeating ways; as it progresses, it winds down to a calmer mood which is extended on the second song "...Seeing ...". This one takes you on a real rollercoaster ride of intense emotion and agony by alternating the soothing parts with sudden bursts of emphatic black metal fury. Plaintive repetitive piano-like notes near the end heighten the anguished mood. "Watching You", co-written with Jack Hannert who also contributes to the screeching voices, is a complex piece that switches from inspired riffing and hard driving percussion rhythms to a passage of soothing acoustic serenity with softly strumming guitar and back again.
Like Panopticon, Skagos trades in a nature-orieneted black metal but the singing is more up-front and easier to follow. The style is raw and harsh but the sound is very clear with the bass even being audible under the blurry guitar and thumping drums. "Smoldering Embers", the first of two songs, features BM-styled and pure-voiced singing over surging riffs that finish in a long quiet and thoughtful coda of solo guitar. The second song "Anamnesis II: A Dry, Sterile Thunder without Rain" starts with a melancholy acoustic guitar instrumental that together with a violin-like drone builds into an angry thrashy tirade against unnatural weather conditions created by unthinking activity and invokes the spirits of thunder and war to make the rain come down. There are passages of suspense, drama and sorrow and there are also musical touches such as gently rocking or clacking handheld percussion during the quiet bits that indicate a sense of craft and attention to detail on Skagos's part.
Normally you'd think that split albums are merely opportunities for bands to showcase their style and the songs that are most typical of what they do. Here Panopticon and Skagos treat the split album format with as much care and serious attention as they would with their own self-contained releases, with Panopticon offering what's virtually a minor concept album that could stand alone as an EP. Skagos contributes two long and intricate songs, each with varied moods and vocal styles. The only negative criticism I have of this album is that Panopticon comes off slightly worse than Skagos with a blunted-sounding production that dampens the aggression and the rough edge, and puts the singing some distance away in the mix; and Skagos's tracks come before Panopticon so the contrast in clarity between the two acts favours Skagos even more. Apart from this, the split serves as a good introduction to the two bands and demonstrates some if not all of what they're capable of.