Review Summary: An album thematically less focused than most of Panopticon’s recent output, and all the better for it
In recent years, Austin Lunn’s one-man project Panopticon has released a series of impressive albums with fairly diverse stylings. There was Kentucky
, which melded black metal most fully with the folk and bluegrass influences of Lunn’s native state. There was Autumn Eternal
, which turned Panopticon’s signature folk-tinged metal towards a thematically-focused seasonal release. Finally, Panopticon’s most recent previous LP, The Scars Of Man On The Once Unnamed Wilderness
was a prodigious double album with a first side comprising black metal followed by a second side comprising folk/country tunes. Meanwhile, 2014’s Roads To The North
may be the only album in this chapter of Panopticon’s discography which feels like a “quintessential” Panopticon record, despite having some distinctive touches of its own. The fact that it is arguably the consensus pick for Lunn’s best work during that stretch becomes less of a surprise upon hearing Panopticon’s latest effort, ...And Again Into The Light
This reviewer went into Panopticon’s latest LP with the reasoned guess that this would be Lunn’s first fuller foray into the burgeoning blackgaze scene, this hypothesis backed by the shimmer of the album cover and the seemingly positive tone of the title. Does this album, then, truly turn towards blackgaze and as such adopt some lighter sonic touchstones than Panopticon’s previous output would suggest? Yes and no, but mostly the latter.
Expectations of a mellower style certainly aren’t disabused by the opening title track, an absolutely gorgeous piece of folk which produces images of idyllic natural grandeur. The following track, “Dead Loons” also starts extremely peacefully, with a reserved buildup of several minutes, but this proves to be a lead-in to doomy riffs which eventually turn towards the blackened maelstrom Panopticon is most known for. “Dead Loons” is a strong harbinger for the overall tendencies of Lunn’s tracks here: many are well over ten minutes in duration, and while often featuring folky and post-rock tendencies, uncompromising black metal is the backbone. That isn’t to say there isn’t some experimentation with lighter tones, with the shimmering stylings of “Embers At Dawn” coming to mind. When the album’s best track, the epic closer “Know Hope” is completed though, it becomes clear that ...And Again Into The Light
is eight tracks with Lunn at the top of his game, crafting music which largely falls comfortably within the confines typically expected from his project.
Upon first listen, this record may feel a bit unfocused, as it lacks the thematic continuity which most of Panopticon’s recent full-lengths possess. However, further listens demonstrate that this is in fact a positive. Many of the tracks here have enough subtlety to only reveal themselves fully after a few listens. Beyond that, Lunn’s decision here to forego a staunch focus on any one style or concept, and instead simply present the various strands which make up his signature sound allow this LP to be just a (very strong) Panopticon album. That’s plenty good enough for this reviewer.