Review Summary: A wonderful collaboration between two striking bands which are both in great shape, and while Nechochwen are more than decent, Panopticon are stealing the show.
Considered one of the most important names of the current American black metal scene, and often praised as saviors by the audience, Panopticon have been steadily improving since their first steps with albums all growing and more and more powerful by the year. After an excellent release in 2015, Autumn Eternal, mainman Austin Linn has moved into covering / composing more traditional folk songs from the United States, elements of which were present in Panopticon's music anyway. A common release with Nechochwen feels like it always made sense, as they also focus on similar concepts and have the country's folkish touch, a band that I haven't looked in depth so far except from some listening sessions of their third album from 2015 named Heart of Akamon. Each band contributes with almost twenty minutes of music here, with the difference that Nechochwen's side contains four tracks while Panopticon hit with a mammoth, 19 minute long piece named "Rune's Heart".
Going into Nechochwen's part, things get interesting right away with the opening track "Of Wisdom and Prophecy", which sets the ground and works like an introduction to their following three compositions, it is shorter and displays some well played guitar melodies as well as a clean vocal narration in the beginning. The band is very confident with their sound and the changing of different parts within the songs themselves, that being obvious in both "The Megalith" and "The Mingling Waters". Mostly based on epic and lively melodies, the vocals range from clean choruses to aerial shrieks and there is plenty of acoustic guitar usage. These acoustic guitars are quite impassioned and create a neofolk feeling when used, and I specifically liked how the acoustics are introduced in "The Megalith" for example, where there is an abrupt change from the distorted guitars just a second ago, a technique that slightly reminded me of early Ulver.
Several compositional ideas in the guitar riffs and solos often steps into viking metal territories, and this whole combination of elements is in fine harmony. "The Mingling Waters" have a touching neofolk introduction, a middle paced atmospheric black metal part and then closes with Nechochwen almost jamming 70s rock style, and the flow of the track is amazing. Nechochwen's final track "The Road" is just under the five minute mark and has faster, more traditional black metal lines (adding some death metal growls as well) played from the scope of this band, yet the listener might not be ready to face Panopticon's grandiose side.
I have not looked into them that closely to know if they have released such a long track in the past, but hell what a journey it is to sit down and listen to "Rune's Heart". I was impressed last year with "The Crescendo of Dusk" which lasted thirteen minutes, but it seems Linn is capable of creating a track of whatever length he likes. All the different instruments do their part perfectly, from the pummeling drums to the fluid and interesting guitar lines, offering a wide variety of different riffs and passages, the composition itself is fairly moving and well written, not to mention the remarkable vocals. I totally prefer Panopticon's black metal side to his more folk-oriented work (not because one is better than the other) and "Rune's Heart" is exactly what I love to hear from this band, which made me feel the same awe as when I listened to Agalloch's "Faustian Echoes" or Helrunar's monumental "Wein für Polyphem".
The compelling acoustic part in the middle of the composition builds to an even more epic and intense follow-up afterwards, with "Rune's Heart" unraveling flawlessly, and its beauty will make you think that time stopped during the listen. One of the best music pieces I have heard from Panopticon but again, I am not the truest follower out there, I can still say this track is, with all the meaning of the phrase, mind blowing. The deep vocals and opaque keys used in the outro make this release fade away in an exceptional manner, as "Rune's Heart" is easier to listen and enjoy than many shorter pieces in atmospheric black metal.
While I chose to listen to this split because of Panopticon, I was left with very good impressions by Nechochwen that I already admired from just one album I had heard from them. My preference here is a bit one-sided, yet both bands did great work and this concludes to a very solid release for all fans of atmospheric black metal, and definitely for fans of these two bands. At the end of the day, I am digging this release more than I expected and can't suggest it enough.