Though black metal may be one of the most diverse sounding metal genres out there right now, Panopticon still manages to find a niche. Country music meets black metal is the best way I can describe it. I had heard an album of his previously and it leaned more to the country side than the black metal side and I must admit I didn’t enjoy it too much and generally glossed over his other releases. Panopticon, which is solely comprised of the talented Austin Lunn, returned this year with a new EP titled The Crescendo of Dusk and I feel this release blows both hot and cold for me. This Minnesotan based project boasts a unique mix of black metal, bluegrass, and Appalachian folk and we can hear a little bit of all of this coming through on this EP although not all at the same time.
As the EP starts to spin we are greeted with a typical but quite beautiful tremolo riff that outlines the chord structure to come. Before long the rest of the instruments are introduced in full force. This intro is probably one of my favourite moments in the entire EP; it is mystical, mysterious, and mesmerising. I particularly love the choir/pad/keyboard sound that firmly places this song in the realm of atmospheric and folky black metal. The production quality is nothing too special but for black metal, I do not feel that it is out of character. Everything is audible in the mix though the treatment of some of the instruments feels a bit flat and I feel the mix could have been a little bit bigger and warmer.
The two components that really stand out in the first song “The Crescendo of Dusk” are the incredibly moving guitar leads and the great drum fills we hear periodically. The vocals, although fitting, do not stand out for me and just fill in the gaps in the frequency spectrum as is quite common of the average black metal vocal production. We reach a lull as the abrasive yet alluring wall of sound is broken by swirling keyboards and reverb-drenched guitar. This respite is accompanied by visions of lush, green, cold forests that seem to pass by as if in some sort of fevered dream. The piece returns with more washed out, folky black metal and although this song is close to fourteen minutes long it always seems to finish way sooner than you expect. I may be biased as I am quite partial to this type of black metal but I think I can safely say this first piece is fantastic.
This leads me on nicely to what I’m going to say about the second track on this EP, “The Labyrinth”. I don’t like it. I’m am not adverse to country or folk music of this nature but this song reminds me of a cheesy premiere trailer for the new season of The Walking Dead or some other such forgotten TV show. It is reminiscent of an Agalloch sound but with more Shawn Mullins influences than I feel are necessary. To not be too harsh, I enjoy the guitar in the piece and as the song reaches its climax and subsequent ending it lands pleasantly on the ears. However, the low pitched, spoken vocals really don’t do it for me.
This release is definitely well worth the listen if you are an atmospheric black metal fan. It has some unique elements that you don’t hear in black metal too often but personally, I don’t find all of those elements too appealing. If you are a fan of both country music and black metal then this release may be just what you are looking for. At the very least check out the first track, as it’s a real banger.