Friday, December 14, 2012

Awesome Bands You Should Know...PANOPTICON

PANOPTICON is the name of Austin Lunn's one man music project. One person bands are somewhat common within the realm of Black Metal, and Panopticon most definitely play black metal much of the time, and do it quite well.  However, it is the other side of Panopticon's sound, particularly on new album "Kentucky", that makes the band that much more interesting. On "Kentucky", Lunn isnt bringing in elements of shoegaze, crust, or doom as is increasingly common among American black metal bands. He's doing something that I dont believe anyone else has ever done within the realm of black metal, which is play bluegrass. Yes, you heard me right, BLUEGRASS, and as odd as that may sound to you, its fits, and it fits extremely well. Metal bands having been bringing in elements of folk music for awhile now, hell there is even a subgenre now called Folk Metal, but it is almost always European folk music, which makes alot of sense for European bands, but less so for American band. Black Metal has long had a flirtatious history with folk music with many bands historically and currently being very connected to their native lands and the music and folklore of those places. As more and more black metal bands have sprung up in the United States we have seen some who have also been influenced by folk metal and these things, but its seems to me that Panopticon is one of, if not the, first band to take American Folk music tradions and fuse them to a chasis of black metal. The band was started in 2007 with Panopticon released their self titled debut the following year, in 2008, and have been pretty prolific since then. The band has always been different from alot of other black metal bands, take for example this statement from Lunn himself describing Panopticon, “a black metal band focusing on political and philosophical issues such as anarchism, subjectivism, society, paganism, pantheism, Norse mythology/heathenism and beer. I created this project because i was tired of consumer driven music, a-political and boring ,stale Satanism and racist bullshit that plagues the black metal community. no hair cuts, no big record labels, no bigotry, no drum machines, no rulers, no masters.” The beer reference may seem odd also but Lunn makes his living outside of music by professionally brewing beer. Panopticon's 2nd LP, "Collapse" was released in 2009 through Pagan Flames Productions, and is the point at which the bluegrass influence started to rear its head. The album themes of the downfall of civilization, survival in a post-apocalyptic world, & the survivor's need to reconnect with nature are well integrated not only through the music and lyrics but also through samples and field recordings. In 2010, Lunn self released a compilation of sorts called "...On the Subject of Mortality". It was extremely limited and was a handcrafted wooden box containing Panopticon's split with Skagos and their split with When The Bitter Spring, as well as a T shirt, 2 patches and a print of the album artwork. This "album" was re-released in 2011 via The Flenser on vinyl, but not in the wooden box or with any of the other items. "On The Subject of Mortality, as the title implies is largely a meditation on one's own death. From what I understand, Lunn's father died somewhere around that time period and the songs on that compilation reflect Lunn's attempts at dealing with the loss of his father as well as meditating on his own demise.  After the release of a couple more splits came the 3rd full length LP, "Social Disservices", through Flenser Records in 2011. "Social Disservices" is a much more hostile, angry album than much of what came before or after for Panopticon. It is basically a concept album about children who fall between the crack of the system that is supposed to help them and protect them. The album features ferocious, violent black metal, post rock atmospherics, and as is common in Panopticon's work, samples. The samples, as always, help direct attention to the themes and concept of the record along with the lyrics, and they are as powerful as ever. One sample is even of crying children, so you get the idea. Its an album that is as powerful as it is passionate, and in keeping with the ideals behind the band, attacking the institutions of society that have failed its people. Keeping on pace with Panopticon's seeming schedule of releasing 1 full length album a year, in 2012 we were graced with the amazing new album, "Kentucky". Released this summer through Pagan Flames Productions, "Kentucky" is another concept album, this time dealing with the state Lunn call's home. The main theme of the record is the coal industry and its impact on the people and environment. It delves into mountain top removal, labor disputes, unions, worker's rights, greed, and environmentalism. This is the album that features bluegrass and folk most prominently of all the Panopticon albums, but make no mistake, fierce black metal is still very much a part of the album. The album somewhat alternates between the two styles, but occasionally overlaps them to great effect. It also features 2 traditional labor protest songs that Lunn perform's excellently and doing justice to their 1930's origin. Samples again are a big part of this album with some of them coming from documentaries about mountain top removal and the coal industry in general, some from youtube clips, and also the film "Harlan County USA". All of them fit the mood perfectly and really draw the listener into the struggles at the heart of this album and state. For me personally, "Kentucky" is my favorite Panopticon album, and will rank very high on my best of 2012 list I'm certain. I'm very interested to see what comes next for Panopticon. Each album is different and has its own specific theme, while always being rooted in the overall ideology behind the band, so I'm eager to see what cause or issue will be at the heart of the next album, but also musically whether or not Lunn can fully integrate bluegrass and black metal into each other or if he will largely keep them seperate.

Andy Sweitzer

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