Words About Music
Panopticon “Roads to the North”
Panopticon is one of the most interesting American metal bands of the past decade that you haven’t heard yet. This Louisville, Kentucky project is the product of brainchild Austin Lunn, the sole member of the band. In 2012, Panopticon received a bit of interest for the album “Kentucky,” a ferociously adventurous black metal record that blended elements of post-rock, folk, metal, and bluegrass in weird yet surprisingly awesome ways. The experiments throughout this album are plenty, but they also work. Little did I know that two years later, A. Lunn would be able to recreate what made “Kentucky” awesome by changing the setting from the heated south to the freezing northern midwest. “Roads to the North” was recorded in rural Minnesota by experimental-metal demigod Colin Marston (Gorguts, Behold… The Arctopus, Krallice). The resulting album is a frozen wasteland of atmospheric intensity rivaled by very few bands this year. Panopticon outdid Agalloch at their own game.
For fans of corpsepaint early-90s nihilistic depressive Scandinavian black metal, this album is going to come as a huge surprise. There flutes, mandolins, violins, and even banjos throughout this album’s run, and they don’t sound even remotely out of place. “Roads to the North” is a post-apocalyptic journey through the midwestern woods that will give your summer a significant chill. Lunn found Justin Vernon’s cabin and he burned it down with the album’s spastic drumming, shoegazey guitars, and feral shrieks. This is not a scenic journey with your wife, but more like a late-night drunken walk after a fight with your best friend. “Roads to the North” isn’t a friendly album to keep you cool. It’s disheartening, lengthy, and oh-so worth it.
Though the song lengths may seem daunting to some, the album’s 72 minutes feel just right. “Roads to the North” is transcendental the way Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau are, not quite in the way that Deafheaven and Liturgy are. It sounds like what I wanted the new Wolves in the Throne Room to be, but with so much more. While I do appreciate the experimental and precedented use of the extra instrumentation, I wish it wasn’t so sudden and kept apart from the rest of the album. The song “The Long Road, I. One Last Fire,” part 1 of a three-part song, is six minutes of bluegrass instrumentation that didn’t really quite need to be six minutes. It could’ve just as easily been attached to the short, soft ballad that is “Norwegian Nights.”
Overall, “Roads to the North” is one of the year’s greatest heavy metal records. It’s excellently produced and weird enough to be memorable without being gimmicky. Panopticon is a project with significant promise that I just know is not going to get the praise it deserves until the year ends and Stereogum puts up something about how this album was really the year’s best heavy metal album. Though it’s still a bit rough qualitatively (I’m of the opinion that Panopticon’s best is yet to come), it’s a continued incline in this project’s musical output. I’m excited about what’s happening here and even more excited about what will happen next.
SCORE – 8.6
FAVORITE TRACKS – The Echoes of a Disharmonic Evensong, Where Mountains Pierce the Sky, The Long Road, In Silence, Chase the Grain
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