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A good place to go after you sample Kentucky - 95%

Cassandra_Leo, April 26th, 2016
Written based on this version: 2010, 2 12" vinyls, The Flenser (Limited edition, Clear yellow with black/red splatter vinyl)

The first of (to date) four concept albums Panopticon has released, Collapse expanded the scope of the band's first album to the collapse of society itself. As an anarchist, sole band member Austin Lunn doesn't regard this as necessarily being a uniformly bad thing. One of the major themes of this album is questioning how humans would evolve and adapt to such a massive change in lifestyle.

The music, consequentially, isn't uniformly the standard blasting one would expect from a black metal release. While there is some of that, it's bookended by other elements. The opening track, "The Death of Baldr and the Coming War", starts out with an extended post-rock workout that intentionally recalls the works of Godspeed You! Black Emperor, and it ends with an acoustic bluegrass section. Between these, there is the expected black metal aggression, but while the transition could be jarring in lesser hands, Lunn makes it work. "The Death of Baldr" runs for sixteen minutes and establishes the epic scope of the material Lunn is working with here.

The other tracks continue in similar vein. "Aptrgangr" again opens with a post-rock section that intentionally incorporates some just-barely-out-of-tune accompaniment that generates the intended sense of unease. "Merkstave" slows the tempo down and incorporates acoustic passages and readings from Henry David Thoreau, while the acoustic "Idavoll" closes the original album on a serene, pastoral note that implies that, while the collapse of society may be difficult for humans, we will learn and adapt.

The album has also been reissued on vinyl with a bonus track, "The Beginning of the End", which is a cover of an Amebix track featuring that band's vocalist, Rob "The Baron" Miller, as a guest. It fits perfectly with the theme of the album and is well recommended for interested fans. The vinyl has also been remastered and features substantially expanded dynamic range. The sound is a definite improvement, and I would recommend listeners upgrade from the CD to the vinyl edition if at all possible.

While Kentucky is generally regarded as Panopticon's masterpiece with good reason, the quality of Collapse is similarly high. Interested listeners who enjoyed Kentucky should probably turn either to this album or to Roads to the North next.

Note: I originally wrote this review for Prog Archives.

A surprising sum of differing elements. - 80%

zaruyache, May 12th, 2014

Collapse is the sophomore record of Kentucky’s one and only one-man black metal show, Panopticon. Formed in 2007 by mastermind Austin Lunn, the project’s acclaimed self-titled debut featured a hodgepodge of different black metal styles, all wrapped together in a raw, lo-fi, do-it-yourself package. Additionally, the album also saw Lunn experiment with his mostly second-wave black metal sound through sparing use of post-rock, folk, and crust punk elements throughout the record’s six main pieces. Despite all the acclaim the record received, Panopticon showcased a new band still trying to find its legs, as well as decide just where exactly it wanted to go in the first place.

Lunn’s sophomore attempt, however, sees all that indecision melt away, making the record seem almost like that of a completely different project. A concept album, Collapse flows wonderfully from start to finish and features one single, focused sound. The album takes ideas only briefly touched upon in the band’s previous works and expertly expands them, making them now essential elements to both its sound and concept; no longer simply a black metal project, Collapse shows Lunn fully embracing his post-rock and folk sides for the benefits of better song and story-writing. A fan of anarchistic and do-it-yourself mindsets, Collapse tells the story of a society oppressed, its fall into chaos, and eventual triumphant rebirth and reconnection. From start to finish the album clearly embodies this tale, expertly using its different elements to highlight changes in plot and tone.

The Death of Baldr and the Coming War begins the album on a somber note; a slow, melancholic guitar drones softly as samples of different political pundits and newsmen play, their voices highlighting the ills of a modern nation, and what they believe to be leading to its “inevitable” destruction. Lunn’s drumming slowly builds tension before allowing the track to explode into chaos, his gruff barks angrily urging on a revolution so desperately needed. After almost ten minutes of black metal fury, the track takes a most unexpected turn when all activity is abruptly cut off--a quick burst of static silences the previous chaos, replacing it with the sound of what seems to be a record player. An acoustic ensemble, banjo included, arises and begins to play, slowly at first, before exploding in a full-scale bluegrass experience. After the chaos of revolution, Baldr finds a way to end itself on a positive note, attempting to show that even in the midst of absolute destruction and uncertainty, it is the unity of the community that gives any cause its strength.

A clap of thunder signals the beginning of the album’s second movement, Aptrgangr. A lone acoustic guitar is aided by a dreamy lead, Lunn’s voice whispering encouragement behind it all. Slowly, like in the previous track, the music builds as drums are added, giving the revolution some sense of direction. Eventually the music begins to grow tenser, less melodic. The drums adopt a stomping rhythm, urging themselves forward. Again the music finally explodes—fast, atmospheric riffs and pounding drums carrying it onward. A whining guitar wanders too and fro, unable to stop itself or find its destination. Like a freight train without a conductor, Aptrgangr seems unable to stop, droning through variations of the same riffs over and over, until the music itself begins to feel tired of the whole charade. When the music finally runs out of steam, a single droning guitar stands defiant, refusing to surrender until becoming completely consumed by the rising sounds of a swarm of angry bees.

Merkstave finds itself in a similarly violent state of mind. After beginning at a rather mid-pace, the track quickly dissolves into a brief barrage of blast beats before settling back down to repeat this slow/fast cycle once more. After the long-winded uprising in Aptrgangr, Merkstave seems to struggle finding direction, often utilizing the fast-slow, build-release formula to give itself a number of internal movements, also effectively characterizing the uncertainty and directionlessness of a new post-revolution society. Even bouts of pensive, melodic acoustic playing cannot seem to set the track in the right direction, its stumbling waltz continuing until finally burning itself out in another barrage of guitars and drums.

Hope is never completely lost, though. Not in Lunn’s political commentary, at least. Although a violent, angry, and ever-shifting record, Collapse finally sees the light at the end of the tunnel with its completely acoustic closer, Idavoll. After rebelling and fighting for a new sense of direction, the new society in the post-revolution world seems to finally find some sense of unity. Gone are the moments of aggression—the screams, the crashing drums, the buzzing guitars—replaced by purely acoustic instruments and Lunn’s encouraging whispering voice. An almost-happy melody plays throughout, signaling the hopefulness of a society once again in control of its own destiny.

Collapse is a definite step up from the band’s debut. After flirting with different sounds and styles on his debut, Austin Lunn truly shows his competency as a songwriter on his sophomore release by fully exploring his sound and creating a diverse, memorable piece in the process. Through its four tracks, Collapse effortlessly flows between minimalistic post-rock, grim and blasting black metal, and oddly hopeful folk soundscapes. His utilization of different influences to not only tell a story, but to embody that tale from start to finish makes Collapse his most powerful example of artistic expression yet, and something that should definitely be on the radar of every half-serious metal fan.

Fresh BM / bluegrass variation on familiar theme - 90%

NausikaDalazBlindaz, August 17th, 2009

Now I've heard a fair amount of black metal fusion music, usually in the forms of BM / post-rock, BM / doom or BM / folk, but I'm always prepared to be surprised by anything very different and this album by USBM act Panopticon caught me off-side with its own meditation on the downfall of American society and civilisation that combines BM with field recordings, pagan Norse mythology and American twangy bluegrass melodies on banjo and guitar that at once sound melancholy and sunny - and this is just the first track for starters!

Titled "The death of Baldr and the coming of war", the first track starts with a series of spoken voice recordings sampled from various American news services so it's easy to think, yeah, this could be another doom and gloom apocalyptic rant on how modern society sucks and is rapidly going down the toilet with its slave mentality and citizens turning into sheeple thanks to Christianity, relentless consumerism and addiction to electronic toys. But this turns into a long and winding track where the highlight comes more than halfway through with a winding guitar melody and then happy rollicking down-home bluegrass country tunes which round off the track.

Second track "Aptrgangr" is more downbeat with a stark post-blues meldoy and heavy percussion as survivors of the apocalypse experience shell-shock and find that to survive they must reconnect with Nature spiritually and mentally as well as physically. Black metal though is never too far away and it zaps back at hyper-speed with a wailing lead guitar in the background, a barely-there vocal and though everything is going at hyper-warpdrive, a surprisingly laid-back cymbal rhythm is present too. On "Merkstave", the struggle to survive continues as folks discover they have to learn how to get along together again amid the clash of speeding BM and an acoustic guitar melody. Something with a vaguely exotic Middle Eastern rhythm and a shrill flute intrudes briefly before it's swept aside by a fiery black metal blast which adopts the underlying winding exotic tune for its own use. Short outro "Idavoll" celebrates the return of a nature-oriented outlook on life with what may be mostly hand-operated percussion (possibly amplified), acoustic guitar, distant woodwinds and a combination of whispered lyrics and humming chorus.

For me the big surprise is that black metal still has a capacity to adopt and co-exist with a completely different genre of music - in this case, American country bluegrass music - in a way that makes the combination seem entirely natural and at ease for both genres. Much of the non-BM music here is very beautiful, virtuosic (especially on the first track) and emotionally moving while the actual BM itself is aggressive if thin in sound and teeters on the edge of derangement and chaos. The entry of Norse mythology into such a context might puzzle a lot of people but probably most Anglo-Americans and even a lot of black Americans have some northern European ancestry so for Panopticon to lay claim to Norse legends for Americans is perhaps not so strange. It would be peculiar if he laid claim to Native American mythology if most people in the US don't have any indigenous American cultural heritage. The album's concept is self-contained and follows a clear and consistent logic without glorying in post-apocalyptic Mad Max or Terminator violence: the theme seems to be that society falls because people have lost spiritual, psychological and physical contact with nature and only this reconnection can save humanity from going down with their old corrupt societies.

Above all this is a fresh and welcome variation on a familiar theme of complete social and political breakdown and its aftermath.

The Collapse Is Imminent. - 90%

Perplexed_Sjel, July 16th, 2009

Panopticon can be described as a politically driven band. The sole member, Austin Lunn, or A, as he prefers to be known as, is an intelligent man, with many beliefs on the political running of the American system. His music isn’t based around childish concepts, but adults themes which are both interesting and intriguing, despite the fact that I’m not a very political minded person. His informative songs, particularly those like ‘The Death of Baldr and the Coming War’, are maturely conceived through the eyes of this man, who has an anarchic vision of the world that seemingly warns mankind of his stubborn nature that will drive us on to an imminent war that will cause the eventual downfall of all life as we know it. In iconic movies like Fight Club, which defined a nation of men, it was stated that the current war is a spiritual war - something I am inclined to agree with. It would seem, judging by the content of the lyrics and the general lyrical themes, that A, the mastermind behind this one man project, is adhering to the same beliefs. His mind is full of wisdom and he himself has a way with words, portraying the downfall in explicit and vivid visions using a smart semantic field that draws out connotations of the ignorance and stupidity that often plagues the political systems of countries all over the world, not just America.

As the sample from ‘The Death of Baldr and the Coming War’ suggests, A is in concurrence with those who wish to bring about the emancipation of the human race from economic and spiritual restraints that seem to dominate the Western societies, let alone anywhere else. Although I’m weary of political based music, particularly that of a National Socialist vibe (which this is not), I do find myself agreeing with a few of the things he appears to dream of. A society dominated by money has always seemed ridiculous to me. It may sound like some sort of far-fetched romantic vision, but a life of raising a family, in a remote part of the world, during the middle of the 10th century, for example, seems like it would be ideal. To leave behind the hassle that living in the modernised world brings down on our tired shoulders is a nice idea, but whether it would really be paradise is another matter altogether, one which I am not likely to believe. We humans tend to idealise things and a society free of the commitments to general society would be wonderful. I’m such a selfish person and often, politically driven metal, sounds selfish to me too, so I can understand the passionate feeling behind the lyrics, which are obviously important to bands like Panopticon, with A being more like a news reporter, than a musician. He seems intent of addressing the listener with the truth, as he sees it, not what the media tells us. According to the opening song, the problem isn’t with the idea of global warming, but is much more pressing than that.

Sometimes I feel like ‘Collapse’ is a message from the future, warning us about the real problems we’re facing right now, which oppose what we think we’re dealing with. This futuristic vibe comes primarily from the lyrics and the instrumentation backs it up with an aggressive atmosphere, caused primarily by the penetrating percussion sections which relies heavily on double bass and snare attacks and the bass, oddly enough, with its tremolo style under the surface coating provided by elements like the guitars, percussion and vocals. Despite the production, which enforces a chaotic style upon us, A manages to make the bass distinctive, despite its low ebbing sound, which should seemingly fuse with the background distortion of the guitars. Somehow, majestically, the bass is free roaming and doesn’t encounter any problems in regards to the production. Also somewhat different from the debut, A has decided to opt for a more experimental sound, drawing elements like the ebow and the keyboards into contention. It has been stated by professionals that anger often ends up replacing sadness, which would explain concepts like karma and revenge. What goes around, truly does come around in regards to Panopticon. At first, we’re dealt an informative sample, taken from a politically driven attack and then in comes the powerfully fast aggressive instrumentation, which draws away from the underlying sadness that has evidently effected the mindset of A. As the songs progress, slower, ambient passages become the norm and A establishes himself as a thinking man’s musician, not just your average raw black metal musician intent of a chaotic dissection of society which leaves us pondering the point of it all.

His emotions, feelings and thoughts are intelligently spread out across this experimental piece and draw us out like hermit crabs and into his colourful world of politics, religion and overwhelming anarchy. Take the middle-to-end of the inspiring ‘The Death of Baldr and the Coming War’, for example. A uses a folk-ish structure to inflict a sense of hopeful melancholy as he joyously envisions a world of anarchy and disruption. The banjo-style acoustics are odd, but delightful. The lack of vocals is imperative to this sound because A doesn’t disrupt the harmony of his voice by using a cleaner style. He sticks to his enforcing rasps and leaves it at that, for this song. The juxtaposition is ideally explored, too. A uses aggressive instruments for aggressive passages and softer instruments for that epic folk vibe that also carries over to songs like ‘Aptgangr’ with its emotionally stirring acoustic guitar and Across Tundras styled semi-acoustic passage, which strains the sense, mixed in with the thunderous samples of an oncoming storm, although slightly clichéd, this romantic beginning is sweet and rather soothing in comparison to the previous song. The level of diversity has grown from the self-titled record to this, ‘Collapse’, which demonstrates the many errors of mankind and how we deal with the deconstruction of the world. The new features are all very welcomed and the remaining old one’s are always invited back like an old friend would be. The self-titled piece began the journey and if ‘Collapse’ is where it ends, this is as fitting an ending as humanly possible - an absolute masterpiece. It seems fitting to end this review with some lyrics;

“the iron fist of the sentinel
smashing our hopes as it comes down
we abandon lofty hopes
with our feet planted further in the ground.”