Review Summary: there must be something in the water down in Kentucky...3 of 3 thought this review was well written
Although I somewhat fear that overexertion may one day be his downfall, for now Austin Lundr seems to be a true powerhouse in terms of extreme metal songwriting; from the now defunct Plainwords, to his death/doom project Seidr to his most well known band Panopticon, Lundr has not delivered not one truly bad album yet. What makes this consistency all the more impressive is the rate at which he produces such quality works -- it's only ever a few months between some kind release from at least one project he's involved in. Being his first Panopticon record since "compilation" effort On The Subject of Morality, this split (shared with former collaborator Wheels Within Wheels) sees Lundr fully exploring the vast world of shoegaze influenced black metal that he before had only explored the borders of.
Wrought with the full magnitude of Panopticion's seemingly effortless mastercraft, it may be easy to think that Wheels Within Wheels get lost in the shuffle; arguably a less recognized presence (which is no strike against their quality), Wheels Within Wheels once again provides an incredibly strong opposing force to Lundr's main creation.
Where On The Subject of Morality had only skimmed the surface of black metal with touches of shoegaze and post-rock (Lundr had even openly discussed his intent to incorporate more Godspeed You! Black Emperor and Sunny Day Real Estate influences) Panopticon/Wheels Within Wheels II is Lundr passionately giving shoegaze and post-rock a hearty embrace. In a way it's almost surreal to believe Panopticon has taken this route; from listening to his distinctive first release and the even more distinct sophomore album Collapse, one would probably have never thought that this project would adopt a sound that is now being referred to as "post-black metal".
With the closest reference point probably being Alcest's Ecailles De Lune, Panopticon/Wheels Within Wheels II often shows the Kentucky based project delving even further into pure shoegaze territory than its French contemporaries. Enveloping you with layers upon layers of dream-soaked melodies, Panopticon creates that perfect atmosphere-- intense, heartfelt and bloody consuming, Lundr at times amazingly resurrects Britain's once bolstering alternative scene from the grave, using the same sincere approach to inflict just as much inner turmoil as those great bands once did.
Using black metal's repetitious nature in its most efficient ways, Panopticon projects waves of these heavenly melodies, repeatedly breaking and battering your skull until embedding into its very foundation. Despite the overall feeling of shoegaze, Lundr does still hint back to former glories; for the first time since his days in Anagnorisis Lundr uses clean vocals to offset his monstrous growls, though now with more melancholy and less obvious Mikael Akerfeldt worship. In his second track "From Bergen to Jotunheim Forest" he even throws down dirty with a folk interlude fitting of his Collapse era sound. Most impressive however is just how well composed this set of songs is; where one may think due to his constant release schedule quality may be sacrificed in haste, it is clear that Lundr attacks each approach with the same high standards, never releasing material that he is not completely confident in.
Wheels Within Wheels have a bit more to prove on this release than Panopticon; with a solid set of songs and Lundr's exposure to the masses at a peak, this split could very well break the band into a higher stream of recognition. Luckily for them, they certainly deliver -- composing two atmospheric black metal songs with strong post-metal touches, Wheels Within Wheels have a way of writing tracks that seem to build naturally but are still consciously structured in their most effective forms.
Supplemented by a buzz-saw production a la Ulver's Nattens Madrigal, although they lack the symphonic elements, the grandiosity of melodies conjured by Wheels Within Wheels is on similar level of bands like Arcana Coelestia or The Howling Void. Layer upon layer, the melodies create a thick and fulfilling atmosphere that if in the right setting, you could definitely lose yourself to.
A complete success from every angle, Panopticon and Wheels Within Wheels' sophomore split is the work of two hardworking bands pulling their own weight. Both born of that hardworking Kentucky persona, these two bands attack black metal with a similar passion that does nothing but exploit the strengths within their music. Taking his creativity to it's furthest (as of yet) Lundr has once again provided a unique and refreshing listening experience and Wheels Within Wheels prove that they can go head-on against black metal's best hordes. Whichever you way to look it, this collaboration is one of the highest in caliber, as this split with definitely a provide a landmark within both bands hopefully long-running discographies.