Panopticon — Revisions Of The Past: On The Subject Of Mortality
Given that one can never know when Panopticon will release new material, the sudden announcement of the Revisions Of The Past Series didn't really catch me off guard. After the delightful surprise of last year's Autumn Eternal, and a split release with Waldgefluster, these remasters kept the steady flow of Panopticon material flowing. Had this album not been remastered, I don't know when I would have gotten around to listening to it. Kentucky is the project's break-out release, and the other two parts of the trilogy are so powerful, that everything else was easy to overlook.
My introduction to this one-man project was Roads Into The North, I then backtracked and enjoyed Kentucky immensely. Then, within less than a year, Autumn Eternal was released and consumed quite a bit of my time. It's not that I was unaware of the project's older releases, I just really never had time to give them more than a cursory listen on Bandcamp — but nothing really stuck with me. Panopticon has steadily upped the production quality with each subsequent release; the initial releases of Social Disservices and On The Subject Of Mortality weren't terrible, but the recordings felt smaller and less punchy. I have both a cursory listening, along with the self-titled debut, and those production critiques are all I remember.
I will admit a lack of in-depth familiarity with the original records. That said, the improvements in production quality were evident from the opening notes. According to the album information, the drums were painstakingly sampled and re-edited — an absolutely daunting task, in my estimation. The drums definitely sound better, which brings the material closer to current Panopticon output. Austin Lunn's drumming and riffing are equally crucial components to the project's trademarked sound, so correcting the percussion tracks was a very noticable improvement. Remastered albums don't always offer any real improvements over original releases, but in this case I think value is there.
On The Subject Of Mortality gives a glimpse at the progression of the project's song-writing by taking a look back at earlier work. The opening track, "Living In The Valley Of The Shadow Of Death," is very standard Panopticon fare, with thunderous drums and gutteral, barked vocals. The track takes a short breather at around the 8-minute mark for a spoken word passage, followed by a tapping sequence and back to the "rustic kvlt." You can hear the blueprints that later albums would expand on; the album balances outright brutality with moments of expressive melody and droning calm, but with less overall variety compared to later efforts. The guitars are gritty and grimy, but not buried under distortion and quick, sloppy playing; this is raw-sounding material, but there is a lot of finesse and skill employed in it.
I was rather late to the party, when it comes to Panopticon, and hearing this remastered material makes me wonder why I hadn't heard about this project sooner. Kentucky and the albums that followed are exceptional, but there aren't any bad releases in the Panopticon discography. A lot of the fundamental components of Panopticon's rustic, American-style 'kvlt' music were present from day 1. I've been nothing but impressed by the quality of the output from this project, as well as Austin Lunn's other work — including handling drums on Saor's second album, Aura. I would have bought these albums eventually, being a completist, but the remastering was a good reason to do that sooner rather than later.
As one of the pioneering acts of American "blackgrass," Panopticon's older material got a much deserved re-engineering. Later albums would add heavier doses of folk music to the mix, while also improving production and song-writing quality, but the formative years still sound good — especially with re-engineered drums. A strong, overlooked album in a prolific discography, On The Subject Of Mortality is worth a look, whether you are already a fan of Panopticon or not.
The seeds of later releases were planted with this album, and the remastering process is a really good excuse to give it a listen. While the recent trilogy of albums from Panopticon is, progressively, the project's best releases, there is a lot of quality in the whole discography. It's not as though this project just suddenly became good, it's more a case that Kentucky is a future classic and really nailed the formula that was coming together on previous efforts. On The Subject Of Mortality is a heavy, dense record, filled with dynamic songs — from harsh, pounding fury to soothing melody and ephemeral calm. This remaster is not a cash-grab, the material really did warrant another look.
Release date: July 16th, 2016
Record label: Nordvis Produktions
Austin Lunn — all instrumentation, vocals
J. Hannert — additional vocals on track 6
Spencer Morris — remastering and production
Colin Marston — mastering
- Living In The Valley Of The Shadow Of Death
- Living Eulogy
- To Make An Idol Of Our Fear And Call It God
- A Message To The Missionary
- Watching You
Published: August 20th, 2016