“In the last decade, the struggle over time has set the stage for the fundamental conflict of our society: a new culture of nature against the culture of the annihilation of time, which is tantamount to the cancelling of the human adventure.” (Manuel Castells, The Rise of the Network Society, p. 43)
The more I think about it the more certain I become that the old maxim that the only two things that one can be sure of in this life are death and taxes should be expanded to include PANOPTICON as another constant in life. A constant in terms of quality, that is. Austin Lundr’s brainchild is poised to remain at the forefront of American Black Metal for quite some time to come if the quality of his work on this split with Washington’s VESTIGES is anything to go by. But let me not get ahead of myself here. VESTIGES kick off this split release, so first things first.
VESTIGES’ long-term narrative about man’s relationship with nature started with Chapters I-V on their 2010 debut “The Descent of Man”, continued with Chapter VI on a 2011 split with GHAUST and is further explored here with Chapters VII & VIII. The lyrics about man’s mastery and subsequent degradation of nature, and, in effect, life, is not a unique trope in terms of contemporary Black Metal, but there is a poetic and honest quality to their lyrics that definitely struck a cord with me. The actual music is even more impressive, perfectly incorporating pensive drone/ambient sections into a Black Metal framework that is masterfully paced and executed. The somewhat subdued ambient parts are juxtaposed by the urgency and vitriol of the more aggressive sections, yet the way their songs flow would almost have you believe that it is all improvised (which it may well be, but I’m not sure). “VII” is a droning intro of sorts that sets the stage for the mammoth 13-minute “VIII”, which is very much the centrepiece of the release. Bringing to mind both MOUTH OF THE ARCHITECT and something along the lines of WEAKLING or WOLVES IN THE THRONE ROOM, “VIII” ebbs and flows wonderfully and goes through about three ‘false endings’ – each time picking up the pace again and unleashing additional gusts of Black Metal fury that is both haunting and harrowing. The fact that it never drags during its 13 minute duration is testament to the band’s amazing skill and vision.
PANOPTICON has the unenviable task of following up this staggering piece of music, but Austin Lundr is more than up to the task. Closing out the split with two unreleased songs and a SUICIDE NATION cover, Lundr’s work on here continues to showcase his deft talents. As opposed to the Bluegrass-influenced Black/Folk of last year’s stunning “Kentucky” album, the songs on here are more in the vein of his equally classic 2009 album “Collapse”. Whereas “Kentucky” was earthy and spiritual, these songs are a tad darker, yet no less personal and emotive. A strong Post-Rock influence is at play throughout, particularly on “Eulogy”, which sees Lundr opting for a bass-heavy rhythmic style that is at times offset by spacey guitars and distorted vocals that get intentionally “lost” in the mix. NACHTMYSTIUM’s “Instinct Decay” is a good reference point, but this is a bit heavier and less psychedelic. Emotion, be it angst or quiet introspection, is the name of the game here, with the gloomy “A Letter” (heavy DEAFHEAVEN vibes) representing the latter, and the thrashy aggression of the SUICIDE NATION cover representing the former. Three spectacular tracks all in all, and I’m already anticipating the next PANOPTICON release. Let’s hope Lundr’s day job as a brewer doesn’t keep him out of the studio for too long...
So there you have it – another awesome slab of American Black Metal by two of the most visionary players in the game. The fine folks over at The Flenser have a total winner on their hands here, and I highly recommend you check out their stuff.
PS: The split is available as a free digital download at The Flenser's official Bandcamp page, but is also available for purchase as a 2x LP, with all proceeds going to the United Way of Central Oklahoma to assist in relief efforts following the recent tornadoes.
(Online August 11, 2013)