Panopticon - Roads to the North
Bindrune Recordings
Folk/Black Metal
8 songs (1:14:12)
Release year: 2014
Official Bandcamp
Reviewed by Goat

Panopticon isn't a band that have always inspired me as much as it does others. It's been pigeon-holed as socially conscious black metal (the dreaded SCBM, or lefty treehugging bullshit if you're a traditionalist) which is a contradiction in terms to many. Music with a message, after all, has to be dominated by the music rather than the message, otherwise you're merely listening to preaching with accompaniment, and who needs that? Still, the natural ferocity and intensity of the genre means that bands have to work pretty hard to make me not get anything at all from the experience, and what little I've heard of Panopticon in the past has been enjoyable in and of itself. Not the most enthusiastic introduction to a band, I know; my colleague Charles would doubtless tell me that I'm preferring 'pointless, introspective faux-misanthropy' in my black metal, and yes – as a middle class person with short hair, a job and a girlfriend, faux-misanthropy is as close as I get to the real thing!

Still, news that the new album from Austin Lunn would be focused around his new rural Minnesotan home, his new child and his day job of craft beer making was enough to make Charles pass, and it seemed as good an excuse as any to take up the reins. Panopticon becoming more traditional now in subject matter – isolation, the family unit, self-sufficiency, and so on – isn't matched by the music, which is still as varied and eclectic as ever. Roads to the North is certainly a gripping, immediate album, progressive with a small p in its joyfully experimental nature. It's happy to break beyond the genre boundaries and go foraging elsewhere, beyond even the usual American folk – opening ten-minuter The Echoes of a Disharmonic Evensong has a notable melodic death metal influence, for starters. The spine of the music, however, is the central fusion of black and folk metal, the blasting drums topped off with melodic violin as well as guitars, with added flute, mandolin, banjo, etc to add to the rich texture of the music.

This fusion is shown off best on the central piece of the album, the three-part The Long Road, which begins in Part 1: One Last Fire with pure bluegrass and reintroduces the black metal in Part 2: Capricious Miles. It's a wonderful song, a melodic black metal spine welded to post-metal elements content to weave a meandering, Agalloch-y path at its own pace, a laid-back feeling continuing into Part 3: The Sigh of Summer. As far as reflecting his surroundings in his music, it's easy to hear how at ease Lunn is now, the political anger replaced with something far more joyous – even though the black metal gnarliness remains in tracks like In Silence and adds up to a truly epic vibe at moments, such as Where Mountains Pierce the Sky. One place that definitely isn't is the acoustic, clean-sung Norwegian Nights, which feels more like something from Porcupine Tree than the Panopticon of Social Disservices. Yet that Lunn is so at ease throwing something like that onto an album speaks volumes; it's surprising to remember that Roads to the North is his fifth full-length since 2007. He's certainly become more professional with time, I haven't noticed any of the amateur feel commented on elsewhere – the soloing especially is downright technical at times. Ironically, Lunn finding peace seems to have made for a great black metal album.

Killing Songs :
The Echoes of a Disharmonic Evensong, Where Mountains Pierce the Sky, The Long Road, Chase the Grain
Goat quoted 84 / 100
Other albums by Panopticon that we have reviewed:
Panopticon - The Scars of Man on the Once Nameless Wilderness reviewed by Goat and quoted 70 / 100
Panopticon - Autumn Eternal reviewed by Goat and quoted 90 / 100
Panopticon - Kentucky reviewed by Koeppe and quoted 75 / 100
Panopticon - Collapse reviewed by Charles and quoted 80 / 100
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There are 2 replies to this review. Last one on Thu Sep 04, 2014 5:04 pm
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