Panopticon – Roads to the North (Bindrune Recordings)

Tuesday, 15th July 2014
Rating: 9/10

Austin Lunn, the man behind Panopticon, releases his fifth full-length under the moniker, a band that has been incredibly productive since 2008, releasing numerous splits all the while. 2012’s Kentucky was really Lunn’s coming out party to the world, displaying a true-blue American take on folk-rooted black metal. Combining it with Appalachian folk music – bluegrass instruments and themes about the hardships of life as a coal miner proved to be successful, if not somewhat divisive among black metal fans.

So how does Roads to the North compare to Kentucky? In short, it’s bigger and more elaborate. Chock-full of different instruments, all performed by Lunn (which is damn impressive), this release also has bluegrass in its blood, as with “The Long Road Part 1: One Last Fire.” Acoustic guitar, mandolin, fiddle and banjo rumble and clang together in moonshine soaked harmony. And what about the black metal? Well, it’s here…it’s everywhere, and it’s intense. With fantastic drumming by Mr. Lunn, this album has all kinds of fury to it. And it is also a bit all over the place, stylistically and musically. Soothing bass grooves with ethereal ambiance break up baleful black blastbeats. Orchestral instruments mesh with guttural growls and soaring riffs over angular drum work. There is really a ton going on here.

Musically, Roads to the North is a very melodic album with oodles of guitars shining from up top and boiling from down below. Sometimes shoe-gazey, sometimes shredding, impressive and emotive playing, together with the drums as the backbone. Vocally, Lunn employs a raw scream well suited to the music, straying on the album’s only cleanly sung number “Norwegian Nights.” Native American Indian tones close out “The Long Road Part 3” which lead into this song and create one of the many valleys inside this textured backcountry map of an album. Fans of the Scottish Celtic black metal band Saor would do well to pick up Roads to the North.

Roads to the North shows that Panopticon is truly one of the most interesting and unique black metal bands in America, one that will continue to receive the acclaim that’s well deserved.

Panopticon at Bandcamp