Review Summary: Austin Lunn shows us that he doesn't really mind giving you an education by screaming in your face
My bachelor’s degree in sociology may not be worth much to the real world, but it allows me some insight into the world that Austin Lunn is driving at with his latest full-length release Social Disservices
. The sheer intensity of the album is a testament to the passion Lunn has in driving home the fact that social services (or disservices, as the album title suggests) does little to help people climb out of the deep trenches they are trapped in; they are given a bottle of pills and instead told to go sit in a corner. Sadly, this is a fate that a lot of people are met with on a daily basis – they are forgotten by the very people they trust to protect them. This kind of head-first dive into rather sensitive issues isn’t new ground for Lunn – his second LP Collapse
focused on the inevitable decline of government infrastructure – but on Social Disservices
things seems a bit more personal, and it shows in the music.
Heralded as Panopticon’s darkest and heaviest release to date, I think the description does well in bracing the listener for the onslaught that is to come. It may be going a bit far to call this album Panopticon’s heaviest release – I think his 2008 self-titled LP claims that title – but it is certainly a stark contrast to the atmospheric and benign (for Lunn’s tendencies) nature of last year’s On The Subject Of Mortality
. Then again, the moving string arrangements in the conclusion “Patient” are a touch that doesn’t normally become intertwined with moody, cynical black metal, but their morose tones lend a sense of personality to the music that raw, buzzing guitars normally can’t handle. Indeed, there are some soaring riffs here that build and crash in a way that is foreign to a black metal band’s self-proclaimed darkest release to date, but taking these elements for what they are is missing the point of what is being said here. The album is entrenched in the deepest sense of heaviness, and the majority of the album runs at a blistering pace with drums crashing and Lunn’s distanced vocals putting on a show for the ages. Panopticon’s drumming has always been a high point, and on Social Disservices
their complexities give a character to the album that is rare for this kind of music – black metal drummers aren’t normally this creative in their work.
The album follows a logical conceptual projection, with the four tracks running as “Resident”, “Client”, “Subject” and “Patient”, and while the clear winner is the 20-minute epic “Patient” that concludes the album, each track has worthwhile moments that keep things from growing stagnant. “Resident” features eerie recurring strings and is the album’s most sinister number, while “Subject” takes its time to piece together a slow, wandering build that is heavy in a different sense than its neighbors – a real treat by the time the entire thing is said and done. The real kicker of Social Disservices
is just how easy it is to listen to, a testament to how much songwriting talent Lunn possesses. The album may not best its predecessors – namely Collapse
– in terms of their potency (aside from “Patient” there aren’t any truly astounding tracks through and through), but it digs itself a niche right at their feet.
There is something to be said about an album that can include large chunks of melody and still be easily referred to as heavy and bleak, and Social Disservices
is one such album. It digs into a tough and sensitive issue without being laborious or sounding like a lecture tape, and it does so in a way that avoids the usual pitfalls of black metal concept albums: being long-winded, pretentious, and derivative. Perhaps this is because it is crafted by an artist who isn’t ignorant about the subjects he writes about; perhaps it is the fact that he has a penchant for songwriting and the concept diffuses its way into the music without effort. To me it is a combination of both, and Social Disservices
emerges from this process as one of the best black metal albums so far this year, and one that I will continue to spin for quite a while - until the next Panopticon album, at the very least.