Panopticon – Kentucky Reissue (Nordvis Produktion / Bindrune Recordings)

Wednesday, 31st May 2017
Rating: 8.5/10

Now through the glory days of the USBM movement (Leviathan, Xasthur, et al) and around the ill-begotten Cascadian/hipster push, the American black metal scene now belongs in the hands of Austin Lunn’s Panopticon. The band’s 2015 Autumn Eternal was their first release that had a bullseye on it; meaning, Lunn could no longer sneak up on people with his stylized brand of folk-y black metal. But rewind three years before that and 2012’s Kentucky was the first real indication Panopticon was ahead of the game. The fine folks at Nordvis and Bindrune are reissuing the album with expanded art and liner notes, giving it even more face-time.

Just a massive foray into the odd-combo world of bluegrass-on-black metal, Kentucky focused on the plight of coal miners from the Bluegrass State. Forced to work in dangerous, mostly intolerable situations, all the while being underpaid, the coal miners of Kentucky are part of the state’s rich heritage and landscape, a vast swath of hard-working men and women whose legacy should never be forgotten. Lunn brings it all into focus, weaving in soundbites to accompany the storyline. Things get particularly chilling on “Black Soot and Red Blood” where testimonials and the shouts of the workers invade the song.

Lunn deserves infinite credit for his ability to work in bluegrass into the tenants of black metal. What could have gone haywire rather turned into a dark, enthralling body of work, with vast undertakings like “Bodies Under the Falls” and “Killing the Giants As They Sleep” working alongside the brooding “Black Waters” and closing title track.

Clearly one of the decade’s most unique black metal albums, Kentucky goes well beyond the initial intentions of the style itself. A gem that is about to turn five years old, Kentucky remains Panopticon’s absolute highwater mark and a bastion of American black metal ingenuity.

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