Review by MacabreEternal for Panopticon - Kentucky (2012)
Kentucky gets touted as the "breakthrough" release for Panopticon but I have to say it has taken me a good near decade to get to grips with it and its combination of folk, bluegrass and black metal elements. Without going into too much detail, if the album cover doesn't give it away, the subject matter for the album is the labour struggles in mining in (fittingly) Kentucky with a heavy focus on the film-documentary Harlan County, USA from which many samples are used to great effect.
It is a challenge to get the balance of samples right in record. They all too easily clash in my experience and can quite quickly become a distraction that detracts from the music itself. However, Panopticon give a masterclass in the application of the samples here, using the black metal elements to give them a real sense of drama and the bluegrass and folk elements to underline the real human aspect to the stories also. As such it is an album you feel compelled to listen to in its entirety in order to do both the record itself and the stories real justice.
The styles of music all have a relevant place here and all are firmly placed across the record with 3 tracks being folk covers and 3 being predominantly black metal (Black Waters sits as some ambient track towards the end - again adding depth; some reflection as the album draws to a close). This combination of genres works well overall on the album as a whole but on individual tracks the transitions don't always feel they are executed cleanly and whilst never sounding clunky as such they do keep the record off full marks on the rating.
For such a passionate subject matter there's a feeling that the storytelling is done sensibly and the album feels that more sincere and authentic to the cause as a result. It's sparked an interest in me to go and watch the documentary and learn more which is what good music should do I suppose. My initial reservation some ten years ago upon first hearing this seems nonsensical now and is evident of my lack of musical maturity at the time because overall this works and is one of the few albums in recent years i have truly connected with.