Review Summary: Slipping under 2008’s radar, a one man black metal project rises above the rest.
It’s unfortunate that so much of black metal seems to dwell on stupid concepts such as elves and forests and fantastical imagery, not to mention the hordes of the anti-Christ who seem to believe it’s their duty on earth to make bad music about Satanism. So when a black metal band avoids these overblown and overused themes altogether, it’s extremely pleasing for the disillusioned black metal fan, such as myself. In this regard, Panopticon
is rather refreshing: both political and philosophical aspects are explored in its lyrics, and while it dwells on the elements of human nature, it retains a morbid tint that furthers its black metal appeal. In this way, Panopticon
does somewhat adhere to the typical tenets of USBM; although, in this reviewer’s opinion, there is a respectable jump in the intelligence of the lyrical content, compared to, for example, Leviathan
’s latest release (which one could easily regard as being quite well written). However, unlike Massive Conspiracy Against All Life
steers clear of musical complexities, as well as the murky, swamp-like sound a lot of USBM bands seem to dwell on; it is hugely melodic, and creates a rather desolate and bleak atmosphere which ultimately furthers this melodic feel that characterizes the album. Thus, although obviously being a member of the geographical USBM scene, Panopticon is distinctly separate from its contemporaries and, both from a conceptual and musical point of view, is a unique and sublime black metal album.
Amidst the wave of one man black metal bands, or rather, any idiot with a guitar and recording software, coming across a truly talented and ambitious solo musician in black metal is rare, but ever so pleasing. The creative force behind Panopticon, simply known as A, is not a hugely technical musician; his drumming is perhaps the one aspect of Panopticon
that one could regard as highly proficient, but it is more his vision and the collusion of the various elements in his music that really give the album a sense of direction and character. The usual tremolo riffing is what defines most of the guitar lines, and also provides for the background fuzz which supplements the album’s atmosphere. This is not to say, however, that the album is fuzzy; the production is typical of black metal, but in no way detracts from hearing and enjoying virtually every aspect offered. As mentioned before, the album is hugely melodic, and this can be heard in the majority of the riffing; moments of heaviness do pop up occasionally, as well as some interesting and progressive guitar lines, for example the beginning of ‘Archetype’, but in general, Panopticon
keeps to vivid black metal riffing, complemented by a vicious drum assault. Moreover, A’s use of lead guitar really gives the album a unique feel, whether it be through various solos, such as in ‘The Lay of Grimnir’, or the vast and sorrowful lead guitar lines of ‘Flag Burner, Torch Bearer’.
The beauty of Panopticon
is that within its specified musical direction, there is always a sense of unpredictability. ‘The Lay of Grimnir’ makes use of acoustic passages, giving the track a distinct folk feel, similar to French band Belenos
, but this does not in any way define the album as a whole. Surprisingly enough, towards the end of ‘The Lay of Grimnir’, we’re treated to yet another acoustic passage before the song bursts into an almost hardcore punk section, simple yet blackened riffing, shouted vocals and a steady one-two beat. The best thing about it is that it does not feel out of place in the slightest, and it’s these spontaneous outbursts of various other genres in Panopticon
which keeps it a continually interesting album. Furthermore, A makes sure to not repeat himself musically throughout Panopticon
; asides from the aforementioned ‘other’ aspects to his music which supports the album’s longevity, any single riff, or melody, is not overused at all. Lastly, a mention need be made about A’s vocals. He thankfully continues on with his separation from USBM, and this makes its biggest effect in the vocal facets of the album. Unlike the popular ‘toad croak’ that has unfortunately become an acceptable vocal form amongst black metal ranks, A still keeps things guttural, keeping a distinctly black metal feel about himself but not straying off to shrieking heights. His growls are dense and really support the album in terms of heaviness. The fact that he does not stick to a single pitch again helps with the album’s longevity and overall effect; A’s performance completely depends on the specific moment in the album, in which he spouts out his well written lyrics in a seamless assonance to the music.
As a debut album, Panopticon
is incredibly solidified in its approach and final destination. A has taken his already conceived ambitions and brought them to full effect, without any hesitations or self imposed hindrances that can affect such piece of music. Not only as a black metal album, but as the conception of a single individual, Panopticon
is a rather intimate deal, and delving into it is not only an uplifting experience from its musical uniqueness but also from the depth of its appeal. As mentioned in the introduction, Panopticon
is refreshing, like stepping out from a musty and stale room into the cold air. It’s unfortunate that the album was hugely overlooked in terms of 2008’s metal releases, perhaps flailing in the hype of Leviathan
’s latest offering, but it’s without a doubt that Panopticon
is one of the past year’s best metal releases. Highly recommended.