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Winds of Winter - 100%

cstenzy, August 4th, 2017
Written based on this version: 2014, CD, Bindrune Recordings (Digipak)

Prior to 2014, Austin Lunn had distinguished Panopticon from other up-and-coming bands by incorporating the bluegrass of his native Kentucky in between sections of punishing black metal. While much more than a simple gimmick to achieve individuality, the transitions from distorted tremolo picking, blast beats, and screamed vocals to banjo, acoustic guitar, and fiddle were often sudden, with no clear thread tying the two together. The experiences of spending time in Norway, a move from Kentucky to the frigid north of Minnesota, and the birth of a son heralded a clear evolution of the Panopticon sound; this personal journey undertaken by Lunn culminated in the diverse metal masterpiece that is Roads to the North.

Right from the get-go, this album evokes the frigid imagery of the northern lands; the sounds of wind, a wolf howl, and footsteps in snow all paint this clear picture until pierced by a punishing drum fill. While past Panopticon releases had certainly been more technical than bands such as Wolves in the Throne Room or Falls of Rauros, Lunn had clearly stepped up his game on all instruments with this release. The first ten minutes of Roads that is “Echoes of a Disharmonic Evensong” treat the listener to intense blast beats and fills, a melodic verse riff that would not be out of place on an At the Gates album (or even August Burns Red), and sweeping leads and solos; despite these musical traits atypical of most black metal, the core atmosphere of a cold winter’s forest is never compromised. This is not to give the non-metal elements their due, however. The opening riff of “Echoes” is accompanied by fiddle that follows the tremolo-picked riff, a fusion of two styles together that was not so present in previous Panopticon releases.

2012’s Kentucky featured a much more melodic guitar playing style on the behalf of Lunn, and Roads continues this trend with melodious folky leads littering the entire album. The latter portion of 12-minute epic “Where Mountains Pierce the Sky” even features prominent bass that helps to lead the song into a soft acoustic outro. Despite the liberal use of leads throughout the entire album, the underlying raw black metal guitar sound is never lost. Colin Marston’s stellar production is to be thanked for this; the guitars still have an underlying layer of raw fuzz, but not enough to make the riffs unlistenable. Lunn’s harsh vocals (that would be best described as a roar) are not in the foreground of the mix but allow the instruments to breathe and act as more as an atmospheric accessory than anything else (considering Lunn has stated that the lyrics are too personal for him to want to release, this does not detract from the album in any way).

Marston’s ability to fill in all layers of the soundscape is especially noteworthy in the shoegaze-y section that ties together parts II and III of “The Long Road”. Light drums, bass, and heavily reverbed guitar form the undercurrent while a tremolo-picked lead flows over all the rest in a beautiful soundscape that provides a respite from the harsh black metal. The importance of how each instrument layers and builds upon each other throughout the entire album cannot be understated; even while certain instruments stand out in the form of a lead, solo, or fill, the rest ensure that no space in the audio landscape is left unfilled.

Lunn still had time to incorporate two songs of pure folk in between the black metal, with the hoedown of “One Last Fire” opening “The Long Road” and the softer and more contemplative “Norwegian Nights” following that three-part odyssey. The high energy of the former provides a nice contrast to the latter and demonstrates that despite the change in locale Lunn had not abandoned his roots by any means. “Norwegian Nights” conjures images of a campfire on a cold winter’s night and features the most prominent usage of Lunn’s clean vocals on the album.

The sound of a train at the end “Norwegian Nights” leads to “In Silence”, which features some of the most straightforward and intense metal sections of the album; traditional drum patterns litter the middle of the song before an acoustic folk section leads into an absolutely crushing breakdown section of slow riffs and powerful drum fills. “Chase the Grain” ends the album with an intense climax that uses fiddle and high-pitched screams to dazzling effect before reaching a more traditional section replete with chugs and melodic riffing, and finally an acoustic guitar section that closes out the album.

The imagery and atmosphere of Roads to the North can best be conveyed by the cover; a cold, dark, yet hauntingly beautiful winter forest with the Vegvísir compass leading to a new horizon. Austin Lunn’s growth as a person and musician led him to new horizons and culminated in this album, a diverse masterpiece that transcends genres and stands out as an unparalleled metal album for all time.

Kinda forced, kinda lame- not his best effort - 47%

caspian, September 19th, 2016

First up, I heard that a big underlying theme from this record is about moving from one state to another. That's pretty lame huh, I mean moving house is a horrible thing that you either force on (or are forced by) friends/acquaintances family members over a weekend when you can hire a truck. I don't wanna think about that shit unless I really have to, and I can't see how anyone could write anything interesting about it excepting a move to, I dunno, Somalia, or the North Pole or something. So it's fair to say that me and Roads to the North got onto a fairly rocky start.

All up, I'd liken Roads to a co worker that you have a huge shouting match with on your first day at work. You don't really like each other that much, but after 4 or so years you mellow out a bit and admit that they're OK, but they aren't on your christmas list and you don't talk to them unless you're forced to. It's a bit of a headscratcher as to why Lunn felt the need to take a style that had worked so well on Kentucky and Social- a style that didn't seem anywhere near exhausted- and jettison it for a somewhat awkward attempt at cascadian melodeath or something like that. But he has, so let's take a look at the album and try to make the best of it.

I almost wonder if this album was kinda made in some subconscious response to dudes (mostly fictional) who challenged the metal cred of Panopticon, because a pretty huge amount of this album is all about riffs, and the album wants you to know that it's about riffs, you know? Taking a beefed up early In Flames/At the Gates, adding a bit of 90's hardcore at times, a pinch of Amon Amarth and ratcheting up the guitar production. If someone proclaimed this album to be metalcore they'd be silly, but if they said there was plenty of metalcore influence... well, you'd be in for a much harder argument. Honestly, it's a bit of an odd mix amidst the bluegrass and earnest pan pipe-y bits that still exist in the tunes here and there, as the often histrionic vocals and riffs tend to jar with the settled, serene quieter parts.

The result is that as the album goes along it's this rather confusing, often contradictory thing whereby Mr.Panopticon wants to assure you that he is suitably tough but also that he has a SENSITIVE SIDE. Like a 15 year old trying to sound deep to his date, like Limp Bizkit covering Behind Blue Eyes (that is a pretty low blow), it simply means that all the angry yellin', and all the just as earnest bluegrass moments come across, as, well, as immature; with thoughts poorly formed and articulated. Perhaps it's better when there's a clear cut theme like in Kentucky- the sonic variation on that album's huge, but the lyrical theme keeps things grounded and holds it together. Here there's nothing like that, and I'm brought back to being a pimply ass teen who would listen to Fade to Black and think I was profound as all get out.

Perhaps a better way of outlining my thoughts on this are that there's very competent moments, but overall it's just way too bombastic- a wintersun sort of effect. There's no denying that there's some pretty sweet parts though, which make the whole album quite bittersweet; the first track has a real pretty comedown half way through, and while the twin guitar leads do wear on you over the whole album, a few of them really hit home and achieve, however briefly, that huge, soaring grandness that this band can be so good at.

I haven't heard the newest album yet, but hopefully things get dialed down a notch and things flow again, instead of 70 odd minutes of Mr.Pan yelling his ass off over another melodeath riff with no real plan beyond that. Look, this isn't an awful record, but it's not terribly good either and those new to the band would be well advised to look elsewhere first.

The trilogy continues... - 88%

Kheygo, January 22nd, 2016

Panopticon is one of those bands that, for me, it was love in the first sight. Their extremely diverse music, mixing black metal, american folk music and elements of post-rock with an amazing atmosphere, made listen to it's albums numerous times . In 2012, Austin Lunn, the man that gives life to the project, began a trilogy starting with "Kentucky", a beautiful, hard-hitting, and overall, a great start of a trilogy that would end in this year of 2015 with "Autumn Eternal".

"Roads to the North" is an album that demands time. It's not a short record, it finishes in the 72-minute mark, but it also demands many listens to absorb all its content. It's very dense with many instruments, great passages, riffs and fillings that the listener won't be able to get in his first couple of listens. The album starts off in a very ambient way with a heavy and dense track, "The Echoes of a Disharmonic Evensong". It's crushing, relentless, with tremolo-picking and blast beats galore, but in the middle of this wall of dissonant riffs and supersonic blast beats, there is a violin contributing to a beatiful and ambient part in the song.

Track after track, it just doesn't get boring. This album shows its diversity in "The Long Road Pt I", which feels like a breather from all the violence the drums, guitars and bass gives us in the previous tracks. It's an american folk song all the way, with the always present in Panopticon's music, banjo, accompanied by violins, percussion, and other instruments. Austin Lunn just doesn't dissapoint us. He gives us melodies, atmosphere, riffs, a different black/folk mix from the stuff we usually riffs and gorgeous outros that are very well introduced. It still feels like "Kentucky", but it's more violent than any other material he gave us. This one of the best albums in Panopticon's belt. Mr. Lunn shows what he came for, doing something nobody ever did before, and it's extremely pleasing to hear what he's got for us in the future.

Overall, this record is incredible. It should be heard by any black metal fan. Even the more conservative might find this project, at least, interesting. The only problem I have with it, is the song "In Silence", which feels like a little bit disjointed from the other tracks in the tracklisting, and it kind of breaks the album's flow. Other than that, I don't really have anything to complain about it. It was one of the best metal releases of 2014. It won't change the black or folk metal scene, but it's still an effort to do something different from the usual black/folk mix.

Favorite songs: "The Echoes of a Disharmonic Evensong", "Where Mountains Pierce the Sky", "The Long Road Pt I", The Long Road Pt II" and "Chase the Grain".

NEVER stop in the middle of a ho down! - 92%

H_P Buttcraft, October 2nd, 2014

Panopticon is the underground folk/black metal project from Kentucky-native Austin Lunn, also known as ‘A. Lunn’. From the music he performs all himself, you can venture to say that he is a very interesting personality. With help from some guest musicians from Waldgefluster, Celestial, Blood and Sun, Obsequiae, Altar of Plagues, Vit, Austaras, and Vukari, and was engineered & produced by ever-prolific sound wizard Colin Marston.

Austin performs all of the instruments on Panopticon’s latest record ‘Roads to the North’. Panopticon keeps true to the album title’s definition by presenting us all of the lesser known ‘Roads to the North’ern sound of his personal musical expression. These roads are symbolized by the contrasts of genre on the detailed map of art and music, which rearrange and deconstruct themselves again and again until made into something that is true or absolute. Sometimes these creations are hideous and blasphemous but romanticized to a point of mythological representation. ‘Roads to the North’ is a strange take on what we have come to know as “folk metal.”

The first part of Austin Lunn’s symphonic musical trilogy “The Last Fire: The Long Road, pt. I” is something that I don’t think I’ve ever encountered before in my entire life of listening to heavy metal. Austin Lunn snuck in a bluegrass ho-down on this record! And not like that time Taake played a banjo over one of their songs on ‘Noregs Vaapen’. This is first part of “The Long Road” trilogy and its just a hill folk, bluegrass, folk jamboree. A startling exchange even from the woodwind-laden folk refrain in the middle of the epic track “Where Mountains Pierce the Sky,” which even throws in elements of melodic death metal and even some small slivers of metalcore similar to Vehemnce & Vital Remains. The second two movements of this trilogy compliment the ho-down with two heavy and melodic compositions, the last part “The Sigh of Summer”, tying this trilogy all together with a dreamy, post-rock spell intertwined with soaring melodic metal guitar leads.

This unique incorporation of banjos, the dobro, Native American flutes and fiddle are really the things that give a concrete character to ‘Roads to the North.’ They are not irrelevant in their inclusion because these instruments perfectly create songs about escape, leaving, and grieving. This album seems to be mostly about this painful yet empowering journey through the emotions of a musician who is going through a transition and maturation. This metamorphosis in artistic expression is easily detailed by Panopticon’s abundant presence of folk instruments.

The vocals represent a strong sense of sadness and isolation with twinges of trouble and doubt. But through this pain comes knowledge and inspiration, which are gifted to Panopticon’s audience through the songs on ‘Roads to the North.’ These gifts are to be interpreted entire subjectively but Austin Lunn has been so generous with his ability to keep the music interesting throughout its extended track lengths. Panopticon accomplishes a story told through atmospheres and expression told from every instrument being played on the record. ‘Roads to the North’ is an album that should be held to the same standards of other great folk metal records. Ones that come to mind are ‘The Mantle’ by Agalloch, ‘Kivenkantaja’ by Moonsorrow, ‘Bergtatt’ by Ulver & ‘The Malediction Fields’ by Fen.

Originally published on, 9-14-14.

Scandinavian memories - 90%

diogoferreira, August 5th, 2014

Panopticon have been on an extreme and daring journey that we, the metal followers, have been lucky to witness. Mastermind Austin Lunn challenges the extreme metal scene with his political approach against capitalism and industrialism in such a way as to never forget our roots and to open our eyes towards a new world that can be created without greed and social differences. The album “Kentucky” was highly praised as one the best records of the year when it was released back in 2012, and despite the band’s foundation in 2007, Austin never settled or felt comfortable with his own sound because he’s been crafting and developing his sonority in every album he releases under Panopticon’s flag.

If “Kentucky” led us into Harlan County and to the miners’ struggle against the capitalist bosses, the new “Roads To The North” takes us into Scandinavian memories. Folk metal enthusiasts are used to traditional instruments from Europe, but Lunn picks up instruments from his own county, the USA; so, similarly to “Kentucky”, we will listen to passages beautifully delivered by banjos and native American flutes.

Picking up what I mentioned about crafting and development, Panopticon are known for their atmospheric black metal sound, but things have been changing, as “Roads To The North” includes non-metal songs recalling North-American traditional and musical movements with clean vocals, like in the tracks “The Long Road Part 1: One Last Fire” and “Norwegian Nights”. The evolution hasn’t been only about music, but also about production and to prove it is the bass line in the track “Where Mountains Pierce The Sky” – if listened carefully, a fantastic bass line is delivered and can easily obfuscate the melodic lead guitar; just awesome.

Is “Roads To The North” violent? Yes, it is. Is it harsh? Yes, it is. Is it apocalyptic? Yes, it can be. But the record is allowed to power down for a little bit with the track “The Long Road Part 3: The Sigh Of Summer”, that introduces a somehow ambient soundscape with slow drumming and echoed guitars characteristic of post-metal. The song evolves into the atmospheric black metal sound that we are used to, but the post-metal influences remain there intentionally.

Nowadays, it’s hard to find new and original music and it’s even harder to evolve and go forward when the genre is saturated, but Panopticon aren’t like the others and the band is well aware of the new world difficulties, so every album is a new experience. “Roads To The North” is no exception.

(Originally written in Against Magazine)

Norwegian Nights - 80%

KonradKantor, August 4th, 2014

One of the main advantages an artist has after "breaking through" is the ability to push their personal projects into new directions at a much quicker rate while still keeping a centralized theme looming over the heads of their art's interpreters. Case in point: Panopticon, a band that has been on just about every extreme music fan's radar since the release of its most memorable album to date, Kentucky, which was released two years ago.

Before Kentucky, Panopticon was a cool, one-man black metal band featuring a dude who also played a banjo and other instruments that were very unconventional to the world of black metal. Sounds gimmicky, right? That's not to say this supposed shtick took away from the greatness of the albums that came before Kentucky, but they made it difficult to see any thematic cohesiveness from album to album.

All of that changed two years ago, when Austin Lunn exposed a larger piece of himself in his music than he ever had before. One look at Kentucky's album cover was all it took for today's fans of Panopticon to know the album was going to be THE album. And it was... in all of its perfections and imperfections. A funny stringed instrument that most people are only used to hearing in theatrical renditions of the Civil War quickly became something that reminded a man of his grandfather or great-grandfather. And that's when the light bulb finally turned on in our heads: Black metal is so often about the past, and so is Panopticon. It's said that art sells because of the emotional response it invokes in its listeners / viewers. While each individual person has unique sets of emotions and preferences as to which ones they want to feel, it's really difficult not to succumb to a man opening up his chest and exposing his heart in the middle of the room. So now that everyone is watching, let's see what else this man has to show us.

Roads to the North is Panopticon's first release on Bindrune Recordings, a label most known for releasing dark, atmospheric and folk-themed music such as Wodensthrone's Loss, which is easily one of the best albums of the last decade. Although Panopticon still pays homage to its own Kentuckian past as it has done on previous albums, there's a hauntingly sorrowful Scandinavian vibe that occupies the album's core. Alongside the album's emotional moments come some fun surprises as well, such as the blistering melodeath riffs in the album's opening tracks, "The Echoes of a Disharmonic Evensong" and "Where Mountains Pierce the Sky." The placement of the first two songs, if nothing more, are proof that Mr. Lunn probably has a damn fun time writing music.

Immediately following the 23 minutes of Roads to the North's first two tracks, some pretty fuckin' mean banjoing and fiddling erupts into a trilogy of songs entitled "The Long Road." And my-oh-my if these tracks don't make the entire album worth purchasing. What's immediately impressive is Panopticon's ability to make unconventional rock instruments sound so inherently metal in "The Long Road Part 1: One Last Fire," all without the use of guitars or drums whatsoever.

Parts two and three, entitled "Capricious Miles" and "The Sigh of Summer" respectively, are absolutely gorgeous in every way. Melodic notes ebb and flow alongside distant screams and some more progressively suspenseful, Opeth-ian elements a-la Damnation mixed with Caspian-esque post-rock at times, but the listeners are hammered down with blast beats often enough to remember what it is they're listening to. Ultimately, no comparison to any outside entity is needed to digest "Roads to the North," but it's still difficult not to ponder the sheer amount of influences that were squeezed into a 75-minute piece of music.

Although Roads to the North's climax comes a bit early, the remaining few tracks are quite impressive. Instrumentally, Lunn seems to be a master of just about every type of musical instrument, be it percussion, string, electronic, keyboard or wind (the flutes used in "The Sigh of Summer" add a wonderful Native-American touch to the conclusion of the album's trilogy). It's not only the usage of said instruments that makes Panopticon such an enormous project, but also the cultural appreciation with which they're played. If Kentucky gave listeners insight into Austin Lunn's immediate cultural heritage, Roads to the North goes even further back, as if each note being played stretches across the Atlantic to embrace his ancestors of the old world.

The only minor complaint one may express is that the album feels a bit disjointed due to the fact that there's just so damn much going on. There does exist, however, a connection behind all of the musical attributes of Roads to the North, even if it's not too clear. Kind of like a speaker whose main intent is to thank every person in the room, things can be a bit all-over-the-place, but at the end of the speech, nobody remembers anything other than the strong emotions that were felt -- and shared. In this room sit the coal miners, the European immigrants, the Native Americans and modern-day listeners just wanting to wrap their emotions around the past. There's no doubt that these people feel lots of love, and if they could speak words, they'd probably tell Austin Lunn that they love him in return.

-Originally written for