Review Summary: can't top his own album they said.
It comes as no surprise that Austin Lunn’s release schedule under his black metal moniker Panopticon is as consistent as the very music he records – in barely over a year he has churned out two remarkable full length albums, which are separated by two additional splits. Lunn’s highly motivated work ethic not only results in some of the most innovative black metal currently being released, but also contributes heavily to his own philosophy and anarchical doctrine. His distaste for the mediocrity of not only black metal and the music scene in general, but also the consumption-driven society that continually takes the world for granted, is the point from which he politicizes his music, and the added artistic ingenuity and inspired composition leaves Panopticon as an outstandingly compelling musical vehicle.
From its very core, the Panopticon project is a deviation from what most know to be black metal, particularly in the context of the North American scene. For one, the political element is a serious component of Lunn’s music, and is no simplistic amateur attempt at popularizing the band; rather, there is a multitude of depth to Panopticon’s message beyond a mere acceptance of Lunn’s views. Obviously libertarianism is not a belief that anyone can easily adhere to (ignoring the plethora of pseudo-intellectual, self-proclaimed libertarian teenagers whose grasp of political philosophy is as shallow as their Myspace profiles), but the way in which Lunn presents his scrutiny is not only easily understandable, but invokes a certain degree of thought about our opulent Western lifestyles, and perhaps an appreciation for the overlooked and certainly more important things that we simply take for granted.
Despite its political nature, 2008’s Panopticon
did not uphold any overall concept, at least not to the extent of Collapse
. The self titled was in a way a musical experiment on Lunn’s behalf, one which paid off to the utmost extent; with Collapse
, the composition has become far more streamlined, but this does not leave the record as an inferior release in any way – it simply has allowed Lunn to enlarge his conceptual imagery to the point where he tells a fictional story, one which is both appealing in itself and also furthers Panopticon’s politicization.
As stated in the liner notes, ‘the basic premise behind Collapse
is destruction and rebirth… [it] documents a fictional uprising and revolution in the wake of economic strife, military occupation and totalitarianism’. What the album represents, conceptually and to a large extent musically, is the collapse of a society and its subsequent reemergence. The first of Collapse
’s four tracks, ‘The Death of Baldr and the Coming War’, opens with a sound sample that will strike a chord with anybody who has heard of George W. Bush, and it fits in with the Panopticon sound as superbly as other samples used in the debut, particularly the track ‘I, Hedonist’. ‘The Death of Baldr…’, along with ‘Aptrganger’ which follows it, make up the brunt of Collapse
in both playing time and aggression. The first song represents the revolution occurring in this fictional society, its final two lines of lyrics encapsulating what the song stands for – ‘victory may only exist in our minds and in nature’s oaken pantheon / when the lights finally go out, the songs of our revolution will play on’. Musically, the track is Collapse
’s pinnacle of belligerence, and the compatibility of its composition with its particular theme is very well thought out.
Although the album, as mentioned before, is more ‘streamlined’ than the self titled, this is not to say that there is a lack of variety. The final few minutes of the opener showcase Lunn’s increased incorporation of acoustic and folk elements to create a more identifiable composite black metal sound. The folk elements crop up numerous times in the succeeding two tracks, and the closer Idavoll is entirely acoustic. It is important at this point that I elaborate on exactly what is meant by this folk component to Panopticon’s black metal sound – there is no ‘folk metal’ here. The two styles are obviously distinct, and Lunn does not even attempt a mediocre fusion which ultimately would get shot down, much like the laughable attempts made by every folk metal band in existence.
‘Aptrganger’ moves on with the acoustic ending of ‘The Death of Baldr and the Coming War’, before blasting into perhaps the album’s bleakest section – a flurry of drumming and tremolo underscores a well placed lead, one which does well to signify the chaos and despair of the album’s post-revolution world. The track’s lyrics are somewhat unsubtle about what has happened (‘we must learn to live without comfort / to be fed we must learn to grow’), but the added touch of countless flies buzzing at the song’s end leaves a fairly disturbing image in one’s mind. Despite the aggression contained in the first two tracks, ‘Merkstave’ comes as a surprise – its moments of heaviness are without a doubt extraordinarily hard-hitting, but there is an abundance of relief in the form of several interspersed acoustic passages. The song nonetheless comes to an exhilarating climax before the gentle ‘Idavoll’ graces our ears. Regardless of the album’s coherence between concept and composition, Idavoll is outstanding in the way it portrays its themes – the song represents the rebirth of a new society, and as an entirely acoustic track featuring whispered vocals, is nothing short of a wistful conclusion to what is an intensely provoking album.
is the natural evolution of the sound initiated by last year’s self titled - Lunn showed us a year ago that there were no doubts about his ability to make music, and on the steam of that effort he took to his small pedestal and began to speak even louder. Whether it is the concept that intrigues you, or simply the fact that the record is a work of high calibre black metal, Collapse
is undoubtedly one of 2009’s best metal releases, if not the
best. We’ll see if Lunn can outperform himself for the third time next year.