Categorized | Arts & Entertainment

The Scene: Panopticon presents a unique blend of sounds

Despite a brief respite last weekend, it appears that winter is indeed here. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, for winter is perhaps the greatest season of them all for musical introspection. Trapped inside increasingly small rooms, facing painful temperatures outside, the soul opens to the magic of music. To celebrate this turn of the seasons, we’re taking a look at a true masterpiece of winter music, Panopticon’s 2017 double album, “The Scars of Man on the Once Nameless Wilderness.” This extraordinary piece is one disc of superb ambient black metal, followed by a selection of outstanding bluegrass folk. 

Panopticon is a one-man project composed of Austin Lunn, a Kentucky native now living in the woods of Northern Minnesota. True to his roots, Lunn incorporates strings, accordion, banjo and other elements of gentle bluegrass into an otherwise harsh sound. Austin Lunn indeed looks the part of a black metal artist. A stocky, bearded man with sleeves of tattoos, long blond hair and the requisite metalhead denim vest, many may find him intimidating. Yet his liner notes to the album, described as “manifesto-like” by Metal Injection, reveal a different side: a lifelong lover of nature despondent at its loss, an introspective student of Anarchism and a father fearful of the world his young daughter will inherit. These are the themes that are considered on the album. 

“The Scars of Man” opens with the sounds of a crackling fire, soon joined by whirring accordions and gentle acoustic guitar. The opening track, “Watch the Lights Fade,” provides a calm and melancholy start, ending on the mournful call of an owl. Lunn has entertained you by his fireside, but in the next track, the stellar “En Hvit Ravns Dod” [“A White Raven’s Death” in Norwegian], he pushes the listener out the door into a wild Minnesota blizzard. It is on the heavier metal tracks where Lunn’s instrumental skills truly shine. The album’s fourth track, “Sheep in Wolves Clothing,” showcases the true musicianship on display. For Austin Lunn is many things, but he is first and foremost an absolute monster on a drum kit. He displays truly exceptional skill throughout the album, but it is on “Wolves” that he ascends to jaw-dropping levels. Hammering away at three hundred beats per minute, Lunn matches the feats of genre legends like 1349’s Frost or Inferno of Behemoth.  

After an hour of assault, Lunn takes a turn to a calmer, but no less bleak section of the forest. The second part of “Scars of Man” is a collection of bluegrass tunes, alternately raw and gentle. “Moss Beneath the Snow” acts as a bridge between the two styles, a 12 minute epic of despondency, with Lunn rhetorically asking the listener “how many more glorious winters will we survive?” From then on, Lunn trades in his black-metal shrieks for a soulful whiskey-and-cigarettes baritone, mumbling lyrics of nature, despair and deaths along icy highways and in cold concrete rooms. Standout tracks include “The Wandering Ghost,” the story of working-class America told through a parable of a lonely ghost and “The Itch,” a song directed at Donald Trump, whom Lunn takes to task for “lending credence to every bigot in this country.”

“The Scars of Man” is a masterpiece of bitter melancholy.  It asks difficult questions about man’s identity, the destruction of the natural world and the future.  At two hours of icy despair, it is far from easy listening, but easy listening is not the correct choice for cold winter nights.

Ben McKone, a Contributing Writer  for the Voice, can be reached for comment at BMcKone19@wooster.edu.

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