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Today, while walking to my house, I chose to take the scenic route and took a path through the woods that ran along a river. This spit proved to be the perfect companion. These bands are highly influenced by the wilderness. Being surrounded by nature, this was even more evident. The sheer intensity of these band's works was drawn out. Both bands gave this split their all, and the result is a breathtaking piece of art. Both Skagos and Panopticon push the boundaries of what it means to be a metal band. With both bands featuring harsh vocals, it would be absurd to deny their metal roots but they have so many outside influences that shine through, that it would almost be unfair to lump them together with all the orthodox black metal bands that conform to a preconceived sound. Just as they don't conform to the traditional black metal sound, they don't conform to the traditional black metal image. Skagos doesn't dress up in corpsepaint and ramble on about how Lucifer and his minions are about to take over and enslave humanity. Their imagery is heavily drenched in the natural world, with album art often featuring beautiful Cascadian landscapes. Panopticon's image has much more in common with the crust punk than black metal. Bands feeling the need to conform their lyrics and aesthetic to fit the (sub)genre they play always bothered me; without diversity a genre will grow stagnant. Thankfully, there are quite a few bands, including Skagos and Panopticon, that are keeping black metal interesting.
Skagos set a very high standard for themselves with the release of their first full length. This split proves that Ást was no fluke. I don't want to say this is better than Ást, because both releases are so unique and original. This split certainly is as good, just in a completely different way. With their side of this split, Skagos delves even deeper into their creative energy, finding new ways to add original ideas into black metal. "Smoldering Embers" is a perfect example of this. While their roots are undeniably in black metal, this song is no typical black metal affair. Early on, clean vocals that would not be out of place on an Indie album make an appearance. Yes, I am fully aware of how utterly horrible that must sound. And for good reason - it would be a train wreck. But not in this instance. Skagos has an uncanny ability to make things that shouldn't work sound great. While on the topic of things that shouldn't work in a black metal song, I should mention, this song features a section that almost reminds me of ska or reggae. Yes, again, this should be laughably bad. But Skagos manage to make it sound completely natural.
Skagos ends their side with "Anamnesis II: A Dry, Sterile Thunder, Without Rain", which is, without a doubt, one of the most original black metal songs ever recorded. Before breaking out into a ferocious section of black metal, they start this song off with a mournful atmospheric section. Brimming with emotion, this is one of the best moments on the split. After their bout of black metal, things quiet down again. This next section completely blew me away. A beautiful haunting voice is introduced to the song. This is definitely the best part of the split. After this goes on for a while, a really cool hand held percussive instrument is added, making this section even more unique. Skagos gets full marks for their wildly successful efforts in adding something new to black metal.
Panopticon is quite a unique concept. Anarchist black metal bands are rare. Anarchist black metal bands like Panopticon are even rarer. While most other anarchist black metal bands (and to be honest, a lot of crust bands) have very obvious lyrics and put the message before the quality of the music, Panopticon's lyrics have deep philosophical meaning and the quality of music is always high. Did I mention that Panopticon only has one member? On this release, Panopticon blends black metal with post-rock and ambient music. The atmospheric sections are perfect, featuring an ethereal mood that brings the listener into a trance. The atmosphere is not shed for the black metal parts, with the vocals being very low in the mix, acting as another instrument. The drums have a very different feel to them, sometimes seeming a bit irregular. At first I didn't like them, but they slowly grew on me.
"A Message to the Missionary", Panopticon's first song, starts with a sample of a male operatic vocal. It goes on for over two minutes, fortunately it is intriguing enough to maintain interest. This atmospheric black metal song ends in a magnificent post-rock passage. Next up is "..Seeing..", which starts with a soothing ambient track complimented by interesting drum patterns. After a while this breaks into a melodic black metal song. The outro to this song is especially worthwhile, featuring the best of both Panopticon's aggressive and atmospheric sides.
Panopticon ends the split with the song "Watching You". While I'm not sure if I'd call this the best song on their side of the split, as all the songs are equally good, it certainly is the most interesting song. Being just over nine minutes, this song features many sections, and ends up being very diverse. It starts out in a chaotic blur, which subsides as a prominent melody takes over. The song progresses once again as a Mogwai sounding post-rock interlude replaces Lundr's tortured rasps. Later in the song a new type of vocal is added, a truly bizarre high pitched yell. At times it doesn't even seem distorted so it can't exactly be categorized as a black metal rasp. Just like the drums, at first I didn't like it, but it grew on me. "Watching You" ends in in a similar way as Agalloch's magnificent "The Hawthorne Passage". A fascinating sample, which I believe is in Spanish, ends this split. Panopticon receives 98 out of 100. Austin Lundr, or A., as he likes to be called, deserves respect for doing what most bands with four or more members can't.
Both Skagos and Panopticon put the same effort into this split as they would a full length album. That is very respectable, seeing as many bands are not in the same boat. Both bands give it their all, and their efforts are not in vain. Both of these bands feature more originally on this split than most bands do in their entire careers. I look forward to future releases by Skagos and Panopticon, only the future will tell of what original new ideas these bands will think of next.