Review Summary: a stellar black metal record that stands as some of Panopticon's finest workAutumn Eternal
is the sound of change, of unceasing progression. Never content to be rooted to one sound or idea, Panopticon has seen fit to redesign itself, for better or worse, on nearly every single release. Throughout these evolutions and maturations, each album has maintained a unifying character, clearly identifying it as the work of the same band, while each release builds from the old, forging onwards towards something new. This begets inevitable comparisons to old work, harkening for a “return to form”, whenever a new Panopticon album is released - while somewhat understandable, these are ultimately unreasonable and unrealistic. The band is clearly a very personal work (as Lunn does everything himself), so each release can reasonably be described as a snapshot of who he is and how he feels at that given time. To demand or expect that he should revisit an old version of himself is asking Lunn to betray his musical character. Like the transient season before us now, Autumn Eternal
is a testament to his desire to continue to evolve, a sign of things that have been and things that will be. Among the pantheon of Lunn’s work, this album stands as some of his finest music to date.
The spirit of progression and reinvention is present through all of Autumn Eternal
– it is the sound of a revitalized musical entity. The fury that drove past releases, fueled by political apathy or social injustice, has been reshaped and reborn into a new focused intensity. The range of styles present is vast and has been expanded even further than before, from the southern-tinged folk intro of Tamarack’s Gold Returns
, to the classical interlude sandwiched between two of Panopticon’s most furious black metal passages on Sleep to the Sound of Waves Crashing
, to the almost Agalloch-imitation clean-vocal bridge of A Superior Lament
. Operatic choruses and layered synths can be found scattered through the album, never making their presence blunt, only subtly adding to songs when needed. Each new sound is given its time to be properly explored, but never overstays its welcome as new ideas are constantly brought to the forefront. The album is always building, shifting, then moving on, letting the leaves of where it has already been pave the way for where it is going. On top of being a stylistic chameleon, this may be the first time that Panopticon’s music has sounded optimistic, as songs like Autumn Eternal
and the aforementioned Lament have an electric, positive vibe about them. In the past, there has been a dark overtone to most of Lunn’s work, but this album sounds almost luminous at times.
The album eschews the traditional cold aesthetics that defined the formative years of black metal (a sound that Lunn has never opted to employ), opting for an overwhelming atmosphere, an insistent loudness dotted with somber interludes. The overall stylistic focus of the album is firmly rooted in atmospheric black metal, but it is disingenuous to say that this is an atmospheric black metal record, much like how calling Saving Private Ryan a war movie doesn’t really convey the necessary minutiae. Rather, atmospheric black metal is the foundation that Autumn Eternal
builds and expands from. Notable differences have been made in key areas for the overall sound. Lunn’s vocals have improved dramatically, the weak screams and yells from Kentucky and Social Disservices are now replaced with an absolutely ferocious roar, striking the listener as more powerful than angered. His songwriting has always focused on being a drummer first, and here it is no different, as the album features some of finest, most inventive drumming yet. The rhythm section forms the monstrous core that holds together and props up everything else on the album. Guitar work commonly sits between atmo-black inspired riffing and the black metal riffing of yore (think Emperor), coming to the forefront in the most intense parts of the album.
Tying all of this together is an absolute stellar production job courtesy of Spencer Morris and Gorguts’ Colin Marston. The album does not sound over produced, but has a much greater focus on clarity than the somewhat muddled approach taken on Roads to the North
. Disparate parts are layered and balanced with a delicacy and purpose that previous Panopticon outings are not able to match up to. The ending of Autumn Eternal
is one of the best climaxes that Lunn has ever put together, and works with each separate element seamlessly woven together to create a wall of noise that can still be distilled down to its individual composition. Altogether, Lunn sounds completely refreshed, maintaining a level of songwriting consistency that is the defining achievement of Autumn Eternal
, as there is not a weak song to be found, and his performance is the most convincing it has been since his debut release. There is an ethereal sense of purpose on the record, a subtle, acute intent that carries weight throughout the whole listening, a distinctive sense that this is an exact presentation of Lunn’s vision.
is a stellar achievement, a clear, cohesive album brought together by a combination of resolute purpose and talent. It marks perhaps the beginning of a new chapter in Lunn’s music, representing as much of a dwelling on the past as it does a focus on the future. An album for fall, a time of transition and change, laying the groundwork for the spring and summer to come. It is powerfully evident that Lunn has no intention of revisiting his work of yesteryear, and his drive towards new sounds has given us his strongest work yet.