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Panopticon – Autumn Eternal Review

Band: Panopticon
Album: Autumn Eternal
Genre: Black Metal
Label: Bindrune Recordings
Country: USA
Release Date: October 16th, 2015panopticon-560x560

Let’s get something out of the way first; I’m a big fan of Panopticon, not gonna lie. When I heard Kentucky a few years ago for the very first time, I was blown away. How Austin Lunn, the sole member of this band, was able to combine different folk elements and bluegrass with his style of atmospheric black metal, was beyond my comprehension. Especially the bluegrass, which sounds like a recipe for disaster on paper, doesn’t it? But somehow he pulled it off anyway. Not only that, but he managed to intertwine the music with a gripping theme, lifting the entire album to a whole other level. It’s both a beautiful and at the same time profound masterpiece.

But Kentucky was also above all an honest black metal album. What I mean by that is: you can really feel the connection between the artist and the album’s subject. Lunn’s admiration for his state and folklore is a genuine one. And not only is that a pleasure to listen to, it’s also really contagious. Lunn instantly made me feel connected to a country I’ve never even visited, or long for times I didn’t behold. That was the strength and beauty of Kentucky, and that’s what makes it one of the few albums that I would actually consider to be perfect. That, and Lunn’s excellent musicianship of course.

Then, two years later, we got Roads To The North, which was a great album on it’s own, but never really reached the heights of some of its predecessors. There was just a little too much experimentation on that album that felt somewhat out of place for me personally. Like the inclusion of some melodic death for example. And it all felt too clean and polished in a way. No, something was missing on Roads To The North. That certain connection I was talking about, felt lost. Luckily, Autumn Eternal, the final chapter in the trilogy (Kentucky – Roads To The North – Autumn Eternal) brings back what I was looking for in Roads To The North.

Panopticon sounds vaster than ever on this new release. The album’s drenched in melancholy and sadness, yet somehow feels uplifting all at once. Autumn Eternal is definitely Panopticon’s most dynamic effort to date. There’s dreamy post rock, shoegaze, and of course furious black metal to be heard, all of which contribute to something much grander; that distinct feeling autumn brings forth. That sense of earthliness, when everything around you starts to decay… And Lunn, master of the concept album, paints this picture in the mind so vividly.

The Album starts off with an appropriate four minute intro; some owls hooting, wind blowing and a gentle acoustic guitar intro accompanied by violins set the mood perfectly. And then ‘Into The North Woods’ begins, a brilliant progressive blend of both black metal and post rock. The perfect track to lure some of your non-metalhead friends into black metal, I’d say. And one thing is very noticeable right away; the excellent drumming on this track (and consequently throughout this album). The thundering drums are never too dominant but always back up the epic guitars really well and they add a lot of power to the tracks. The terrific guitar solo near the five minute mark brings this second track to an end, with the ambient outro serving as an ideal transit to the next (title) track, ‘Autumn Eternal’.

I’m not going into detail too much with this track. It’s great, no doubt, but it’s the next track ‘Oaks Ablaze’… that has you wondering if Lunn is at all human. There’s no way one man is responsible for all of this. I love the fast and intense drumming on this track, the dense guitars and sweeping melodies they bring forth. Then suddenly everything stops, right at the heart of this track. We only hear some wind and rain. Then drums and bass guitar harmoniously lead this track on, until the mania kicks off again with blaring guitars. It’s just such an overwhelming track, I’m being mercilessly thrown from one emotion into the next.

“Sleep To The Sound Of The Waves Crashing” is, despite what its title might suggest, anything but sleep-inducing. This track is actually one of the more ferocious ones on this album. It’s main riff is fast and aggressive, with heavy doom-filled bells tolling in the background (that’s what it sounds like anyway, I can’t quite tell what it is exactly). And then, everything calms down (again), and we get to hear actual waves crashing, violins, cellos… anything that makes you feel sad and lonely basically. And in the far distance, we can hear those bells again. And they’re getting louder and louder until suddenly, the drums come blasting in. So be warned, those of you with feeble eardrums.

‘Pale Ghosts’ is the most melodic, captivating, gripping, dreamy black metal track I’ve ever heard. The post rock elements are now more prominent than ever, up to a point where this might no longer be considered black metal by some. However, that’s not the case. Lunn simply moved the boundaries of black metal once again. And it warms my heart to hear what artists like him are capable of doing with the genre. The last two tracks however are pretty standard, but solid Panopticon tracks (although admittedly the words ‘standard’ and ‘Panopticon’ don’t go well together in a sentence). Good riffs, melodic structures, awesome drumming, but nothing jaw-dropping like on some other tracks. We hear Petri Eskelinen’s (guest performance) growls and clean vocals on ‘A Superior Lament’, though. And they’re a nice change as well as addition to not only this track in particular, but again the overall mood of the album.

In the end Autumn Eternal is nothing less than another magnificent release from Lunn. Another strong competitor for the “Album Of The Year” title. Not only that of course, but this trilogy as a whole will be remembered for a long time to come.

Rating: 9,5/10

Tracklist:

1. Tamarack’s Gold returns
2. Into The North Woods
3. Autumn Eternal
4. Oaks Ablaze
5. Sleep To The Sound Of The Waves Crashing
6. Pale Ghosts
7. A Superior Lament
8. The Winds Farewell

Total Playing Time: 01:01:41

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