The Rickety Old Shack

Panopticon — Roads To The North

album cover

Back in 2014, I was still keeping up with the music scene but without any real passion or urgency. I would skim a few music sites, but mostly relegated myself to checking up on established bands that I was already a fan of. Thanks to a good friend and 2 specific album recommendations, my appetite for exploring new music was renewed. Those two albums were Ghost Bath's first full-length, Funeral, and this record, Roads To The North. The latter really resonated with me, rekindling my interest in black metal, which was a genre I'd neglected for the better part of a decade.

Once the short intro ends, the sound of footsteps crunching in snow, the album comes roaring right out of the gates. Right away, you are struck by the distinctive Panopticon percussion sound. Each record features a different iteration of this very unique production aesthetic; there is a low-fi, rustic quality to the sound, but the actual audio fidelity is very good. This is not your father's "kvlt" stuff, it's almost an oxymoron but it's somehow the cleanest, dirty sound I've ever heard and it's perfect for this genre. The drums clang and rattle, imbuing the material with the feeling of a rickety, runaway mine cart that could fall apart at any moment. The guitars and various other instruments all standout in the mix, but sounds anything but studio polished to the point of sterility — like so much technical metal does in this digital era.

Despite starting off moving at full speed, Roads To The North is an exceptionally varied album. "Echoes Of A Disharmonic Evensong" is a good opening to the record, and is very representative of most of what lays ahead. As the track and the album progress, the tempo varies, and a wide array of additional instruments come in and out of the fold. Aside from frantic blast beats, the songs include a mix of buzzing guitars and frantic violin, more traditional heavy metal fare, and extremely moving, soft, melodic interludes. Roads To The North has moments of unrelenting brutality and others of soothing calm, really highlighting Austin Lunn's incredible depth as a musician and composer. The mixture of metal and blue-grass and folk is a one-of-a-kind, even if the concept is hardly new, and Lunn does more than just break off into the occasional acoustic interlude. I never thought I would hear a banjo on a black metal record, nor did I think I would like it — but Panopticon proved me quite wrong.

While lacking the straight-forward narrative of the previous Panopticon offering, the now-legendary Kentucky, its successor is still comparable in every way — and arguably superior in others. Kentucky is rightly hailed as one of the best American black metal albums of all time, but Roads To The North has even better pacing — without the spoken interludes, as good as they are — and improved production. Both are excellent albums which exemplify the depth and breadth of modern black metal and the continuing evolution of the genre. I appreciate both and listen to each of them regularly; my personal favourite is Roads To The North due to the improved production quality and the album's role in rekindling my interest in staying current with the latest wave of black metal acts.

I cannot say enough good things about Roads To The North, so I will simply stop here and say that I highly recommend that everyone who considered themselves a metal fan give it a chance.

Summary

A suggestion from a friend resulted in Roads To The North becoming one of my favourite albums of all time, got me back into the black metal scene, and introduced me to Panopticon. I cannot recommend this album enough, it is a genre-defining work of art; a modern classic; one of the most prominent examples of how America has contributed to the evolution of the black metal genre. Personally speaking — and without a hint of exageration — this record is desert island material, and an all-time great.

Album Information

Release date: August 1st, 2014
Record label: Nordvis Produktion

Austin Lunn — everything

Track Listing

  1. The Echoes Of A Dissonant Evensong
  2. Where Mountains Pierce The Sky
  3. The Long Road Part 1: One Last Fire...
  4. The Long Road Part 2: Capricious Miles
  5. The Long Road Part 3: The Sigh Of Summer
  6. Norweigan Nights
  7. ...In Silence
  8. Chase The Grain

—by Derek

Published: March 23rd, 2018.