Panopticon – Roads to the North (2014)
Nordvis (Europe)/Bindrune (US)
Review by Jude Felton
Black Metal is one sub-genre of music where the national heritage of the band is so often infused into its lyrics and themes. What is slightly rarer, however, is a band that not only makes it a part of the lyrical content, but actually transfers it into the music itself. Panopticon is one such band that does this, in abundance with, sole member, Aaron Lunn digging deep to pay tribute to the past and the present.
With Roads to the North, Lunn has delivered, along with a good many guest musicians, what I personally see as a transitional album, in so much as it not only carries through themes from his native southern Americana of Kentucky, but also embraces his personal journey north, hence the album title, to Minnesota, which he now calls home.
Taking all this into account, Roads to the North could very easily have become a musical mess, with too much going on. However, this is far from the case, and at around 72 minutes Lunn has given the album ample room to breathe and encompass all the ideas on display.
From blisteringly ferocious black metal, through to expansive sections of Bluegrass style music, Roads to the North is very much the journey to listen to. It ebbs and flows beautifully, with many wonderful layers and nigh-on perfect musical arrangement. Nothing is rushed here, with each song being given the time it deserves to bloom into the quite superb being it is. There are no weak elements here; the structure of Roads has been created perfectly.
When you feel as though your breath has been taken away by the likes of the 13 minute epic, Where the Mountains Pierce the Sky, Lunn lets you recover with a little banjo-work on the following One Last Fire (The Long Road Pt. 2). It’s a simple concept, in terms of pacing, for an album that is far from simple; you are going to want to return to Roads to the North time and time again, to really appreciate the subtleties, and not so subtle moments contain herein.
Panopticon really have managed to take the wonderfully ugly soul of Scandinavian, most specifically Norwegian, Black Metal, and infuse it with his own environs to create some of the finest USBM I have heard; yes it’s another truly outstanding album.
Roads to the North is intimate and epic, beautiful and soul-crushingly brutal, but more than that it is quite simply a fantastic and thoroughly rewarding album. Absolutely wonderful.
1. The Echoes of a Disharmonic Evensong
2. Where the Mountains Pierce the Sky
3. One Last Fire (The Long Road Pt. 1)
4. Capricious Miles (The Long Road Pt. 2)
5. The Sigh of Summer (The Long Road Pt. 3)
6. Norwegian Nights
7. In Silence
8. Chase the Grain