The Rickety Old Shack

Panopticon - Autumn Eternal

With little-to-no warning, Panopticon announced the impending release of Autumn Eternal roughly one week in advance of its scheduled arrival date. Given the black metal roots of this one-man project, it's not really surprising that marketing was minimal — if not entirely non-existent. Black metal has been gaining in underground popularity over the past few years, with projects like Panopticon at the forefront of this recent surge. Given the strength of last year's Roads Into The North, I had some high expectations of this record. The short notice just made it more a pleasant surprise than anything, as there was no significant waiting period before I got to hear it.

Autumn Eternal is the final installment in a trilogy of albums which began with Panopticon's break-out 2012 album, Kentucky, and was continued on last year's Roads Into The North. Mixing elements of folk, bluegrass and traditional black metal, Panopticon has featured a steady progression in musicianship and song writing over the course of each release. Autumn Eternal shows a lot of refinement and maturity, while still keeping the general tone and feeling of each previous album.

While far from a household name, Austin Lunn — the sole musician behind Panopticon — has established himself as a serious presence in the world of progressive metal. The anti-commercial leanings aside, Panopticon has fashioned another excellent collection of material that flirts with accessibility, while stile providing a brutal, extreme musical experience. Melodic passages perfectly mesh with furious onslaughts of double-kick drums and aggressive black metal riffing. Autumn Eternal not only completes a trilogy, but highlights the continuing improvements of the project's musical output.

The hallmark of Panopticon has been a unique brand of shrewd production values and sprawling songs, featuring an array of instrumentation — everything from electric guitars, to acoustics, cellos, banjos, and violins — and this is not abandoned on Autumn Eternal. Everything that made Roads Into The North and Kentucky great is present here, but this is not a re-treading of the same ground; the drum-heavy song composition still anchors each track, though the riffs and song structures are more varied throughout. One element of Panopticon's sound is the melding of distorted bass and the guitars into a single tone, giving each track a very rhythm-heavy feeling with fleeting melodies sprinkled in just the right places. The vocals are still mixed low, and mostly guttural barks, though some actual clean singing does appear on "A Superior Lament" and it works wonderfully.

Autumn Eternal does feature some excellent leads and solos, in addition to melding the various acoustic instruments into the wall of noise. Fittingly, the final installment in a trilogy of progressive black metal albums features the best combination of metal and non-metal instrumentation; rather than breaking them up into their own tracks, like on Kentucky and — to a lesser degree — Roads Into The North. Aside from the album's opener, "Tamarack's Gold Returns," the acoustic instruments are woved into the songs instead of featuring as interludes. Autumn Eternal is more focused on the traditional metal instrumentation than previous efforts, but this just makes elements like the string passage in the middle of "Sleep To The Sound Of Waves Crashing" seem even more powerful when they were used.

Taken as a singular entity, Autumn Eternal stacks up as an excellent progressive metal release. Well, progressive black metal I guess. The classification of "black metal," in this case, rests largely on intangible qualities. The production value of the record is "low-fi," in that it doesn't have the glossy sheen of a digitally retouched monstrosity, though the audio fidelity is still very good — all things considered. Panopticon has defined a specific sonic aesthetic for itself, and this record is the most prominent example of it. The duality of black metal is thoroughly expressed in this project: a compelling mixture of musical elements, averse to attention — sometimes verging on disdainful — but rewarding to those willing to expend the effort to seek it out. Even at it's most melodic moments, Panopticon is presenting a dark, harrowing soundscape; the variety within the formula is impressive to behold.

Closing out a stellar trilogy of black metal suffused albums — worthy of mention in the same vein as Ulver's own contributions to the genre and concept — Panopticon's Autumn Eternal is both a worthy record on its own merits, and also a great conclusion to a series of stand-out works in their own regard. Where Kentucky opened my eyes to the possibilities of mixing black metal with blue grass and folk elements, and Roads Into The North expanded upon that framework — with a heavier nod to the frozen, Nordic wastelands of the genre's birth — this final record really encapsulated everything I loved about those albums. Simply put: this was a great album, I'm glad I have Autumn Eternal and its predecessors — I've listened to them, combined, over a hundred times.

Summary

Another record that easily merits mention as one of my favourites of the year. Ever since finding out about Panopticon, and listening to the other two installments of this trilogy, I have been a huge proponent of this project. The combination of no-frills production, first-rate musicianship and the blending of beautiful melodies with crushingly savage riffs — everything about Panopticon satisfies my desires as a metal fan. Autumn Eternal signals the end of a trilogy of records, but gives us an amazing collection of songs worth experiencing in their entirety. Mixing black metal and folk is hardly a new concept, but I must echo the sentiments of others when I make special mention of how Panopticon has combined authentically American folk into the metal genre. I highly recommend the entire trilogy, but Autumn Eternal is a great starting point and doesn't require listening to the other records — though you should, anyway.

Album Information

Release date: October 16th, 2015
Record label: Bindrune Recordings

Austin Lunn — all instrumentation, vocals
Petri Eskelinen — vocals on track 7
Johan Becker — violin on track 1 and track 5
Nostarion — cello on track 5

Track Listing

  1. Tamarack's Gold Returns
  2. Into The North Woods
  3. Autumn Eternal
  4. Oaks Ablaze
  5. Sleep To The Sound Of The Waves Crashing
  6. Pale Ghosts
  7. A Superior Lament
  8. The Wind's Farewell

—by Derek

Published: October 30, 2015