Panopticon – Kentucky

Posted: August 15, 2012 by brzm in Reviews
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Combining musical styles is something that are very common in todays music. Let it be death metal and progressive, indie and emo, house and dubstep, a lot of musicians seems to just combine different genres in hopes of creating good and innovative music. The sad truth is that it rarely turns out to be something spectacular. Blending different genres is normal, but what is a lot less common is to actually play two different genres on the same album. And I’m not talking about going from progressive rock to progressive death metal like Opeth do. I’m talking about having an album that contains five songs of bluegrass and three songs with atmospheric black metal. Yup, Panopticon just did that.

For those of you unfamiliar with bluegrass music (as I would guess a lot of you are), it’s a variation of country and folk music being played on banjos and violines with foot-tapping extravaganza and a really redneck tone to it. Hence the album name «Kentucky» in which the music has its origins. For Panopticon this is a new direction to his music, which earlier has been completely focused around anarchistic and atmospheric black metal with influences from 90’s black metal movement in Norway, including acts as Darkthrone and Ulver. Even though I listen to a lot of music, I’ll have to openly admit something – I’ve never actually listened to bluegrass before, neither am I a fan of country. Therefore when I’m reviewing this album I have no suppostition or knowledge about what is good bluegrass and what isn’t. I am still going to judge how well this mixture works and forget for a second that bluegrass isn’t my cup of tea.

The album opens with the song «Bernheim Forest In Spring». This song is a bluegrass-song and an opener to the albums concept revolving around coal-mining and Kentucky lifestyle. No vocals on this one and after a rather slow start the song expands into exciting folkish atmosphere, and even though I have never been in Kentucky, the music still brings me as if I grew up there. Next song is «Bodies Under the Falls». Here we are brought immediately to the classic atmospheric, forest black metal that Panopticon is know oh so well for. The song is about ten and a half minutes in length, which I personally think is an very enjoyable length for a song, not too long, not too short. After around halfways the song evolves into bluegrass. This is where we really get to understand how well this mixture of black metal and bluegrass actually works as the music slowly glides from moody guitar riffing to the pleasent sound of banjo. Later the song moves back into black metal again, but this time the bluegrass music doesn’t stop, resulting in an very beautiful mixture of soft, euphoric and even saddening violines and banjos being played layer over layer with black metal riffing, drumming and grim vocals.

After the lengthy second song, the album carry on with yet another bluegrass song, «Come All Ye Coal Miners». Speedy banjoing and country vocals is the main elements of this song. This lasts for about four minutes, before going of to a slow ending with sampled lyrics. «Black Soot and Red Blood» is next. Another ten minute song of atmospheric black metal. Throughout the first minutes the music manifests itself with interesting guitar riffing that are beautiful in nature. The song then follows in the tracks of the second song, leisurely moving over to acustic guitars with spoken vocals sampled from some retelling of an historic event. Building up with light drumming the song then moves into an impressive guitar solo prior to going in classic black metal mode.

By now you’ve probably figured out the pattern on this album: short bluegrass and longer black metal every other song with the metal songs having a calm midsection. «Which Side Are You On?» persists with this pattern, being another song of rythmic excellence of bluegrass. Lastly the album pushes into the last black metal song on the album, «Killing the Giants as They Sleep», a song that lasts for twelve minutes. It makes use of some unconventional instuments such as a flute. By the midsection of this song, we begin to understand where this is going. Each prolonged song had a relaxed midsection. The first song had bluegrass, the second song a mixture of ambient and black metal, and the third one completely ambient, with harmonic guitars playing tranquilly over a sampled voice. The album goes of to a slow end with the drone/ambient song «Black Waters», before shutting completely off with «Kentucky», ending the album in its bluegrass roots.

By creating atmospheric music inspired by Norwegian black metal and Kentucky foot-jamming bluegrass, Panopticon has produced one of the better metal albums of this year. The album did not make me a fan of bluegrass, and those stand alone tracks with it is something I will find to be forgetable. On the other hand will the longer black metal tracks end up being played a lot by me, as they are just pure quality from dusk till dawn.

Recommended tracks: Bodies Under the Falls, Black Soot and Red Blood, Killing The Giants as They Sleep.


Martin Sollien


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