Review by Sonny for Panopticon - ...and Again Into the Light (2021) Review by Sonny for Panopticon - ...and Again Into the Light (2021)

Sonny Sonny / May 20, 2021 / 1

For the last decade, since the release of Kentucky in 2012, Austin Lunn, in his guise as one-man project Panopticon, has been one of, if not THE most consistent performer in black metal, with six full-length albums and a number of eps and splits of absolutely stunning quality. He is also the only exponent of note in the niche sub-sub-genre of bluegrass and americana-influenced atmospheric black metal, probably because he is just so damn good at it that, even in these bandwagon-jumping times, nobody dares compete head to head with him for fear of being exposed as massively inferior talents.

His latest full-length, ...and Again Into the Light, has well and truly got it's claws in to me and is easily my most played album of recent weeks. As the man himself points out, this is Panopticon's darkest and heaviest release so far, even withstanding the gorgeous melancholy of the folk-centred passages. Austin explains in an interview on Bandcamp "This album is intensely personal, dealing with many different subjects but all related to loss and trauma" and continues, "The album is full of atonement, apologies, and growth. Like many things in life, the process is ugly, but the hope is to arrive at better versions of ourselves in the end." This accounts for the sadness that permeates the folk sections, but also for the brutality of some of the heavier parts as the ugliness of the process he describes is leant a voice by his powerful riffing and savage vocals (although the latter are somewhat buried in the mix).

The album begins with the gentle sadness of the title track, the violin that is prevalent throughout the album only serving to increase the wistful melancholy of the track's atmosphere as Panopticon ease us unsuspectingly into second track Dead Loons which, after a pensive first three minutes, suddenly transforms into an almost funeral doom-like dirge before really letting loose and exploding into a pummelling, pounding runaway train of a black metal riff and features some of Austin's most flamboyant soloing, although true to the man's humility, it is buried a little in the mix almost so as not to detract too much from the song's effect.

Rope Burn Exit and A Snowless Winter are amazing wall-of-sound epics that blast and heave and threaten to blow you away with sheer aggressive force like some almighty sonic hurricane. Then comes Moth Eaten Soul which is probably Panopticon's single heaviest track to date, drawing on death metal influences to increase the aural savagery that the music visits upon your now battered eardrums. This is an almighty beast of a track that opens up a new direction for the band as he explores a heavier and more brutal side of his musical persona. This savagery is followed by the album's gentlest couple of minutes as we take a short breather with As Golden Laughter Echoes which leads into the album's most heartfelt track, The Embers at Dawn, featuring clean vocals from Erik Moggridge, fresh from his collaboration with Bell Witch, and harsh vocals from Waldgeflüster's Winterherz. The build-up is gorgeous and the release as the wave breaks is almost orgasmic in intensity. The album closer Know Hope is an epic that begins as savagely and aggressively as other tracks here, but eventually resolves itself to embrace the hope of the title and to end the album on a positive note.

This is an album from an artist who is absolutely at the top of his game and who has an uncompromising view of what he wishes to convey in his music, having the confidence to embrace new modes of expression as well as honing his more usual methods to an absolute cutting edge. If I hear a better album released this year then I will consider myself very fortunate indeed.

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