Panopticon are a North American Folk Metal project from Kentucky, USA. The word Panopticon in terms of the 18th century building has quite a sinister meaning which is worth researching if you like your history. The band released their 5th full-length album, Roads to the North on the 22nd of August 2014, under the labels Nordvis (EU) and Bindrune (US), engineered and produced by Colin Marston. This will be my first time listening to this band apart from a few tracks I listened to on online earlier this week, which impressed me, so I am very interested to see what they have to offer.
Track one is titled The Echoes of a Disharmonic Evensong. A howling wind sample and the sound of footsteps on what could be snow start off the album with haunting wolf howls in the background. An insane drum fill and screaming vocals with stirring guitars launch the listener between a mix of elevation and chaos. Solid riffs and drums take over to produce a formidable groove which eventually morph into another stimulating section, beautifully balanced between different musical elements and changes. Inspiring! The record abruptly quiets at 4.05 and a peaceful phase begins until the vocals, atmospheric guitar and driving drums crash back in again and the track carries forward to a dramatic and emotional conclusion.
Where Mountains Pierce the Sky is number two, I love the title especially after reading the blurb which came with the album, describing the band’s traditional American influence. A beautiful mix of traditional instruments begins this track, the Native American flute is especially effective here, giving a very peaceful introduction. Chunky riffs soon come in and the track is driven forward with an energetic feel, again you feel every emotion that is trying to be conveyed, stunning. That piercing riff at 9.08, wow.
One last fire (The Long Road, pt I) begins with a banjo, a doboro? mandolin? a violin…possibly a few others I cannot name. What a fantastic mix of instruments and sounds! It transports me to different places in the world depending on what my brain associates the instruments with. Eventually the instruments all join together to create a fast, merry tune. Little hints of “happenings” throughout by the violin keep us on our toes. A very different feel from the previous tracks, a beautiful experience that leads us perfectly onto the next experience which wastes no time getting down to business.
Capricious Miles (The Long Road, pt II) starts with a speedy drum fill, moving guitars and Ben Smith’s screaming vocals. Again there is something so human about the music, the thrilling guitar, the weighty groove of the drums and the rise and fall of the vocals, they all balance and complement each other perfectly, even when the track changes to a slightly chunkier part at 1.10. Such groove! Soaring guitars over the other instruments with the screaming vocals give an amazing sense of elevation. At 3.18 the track slows down, guitar, drums and a moog create a relaxing and enveloping sound. When a quiet vocal scream momentarily comes back in 6.32 the track changes slightly, sounding more urgent and then slows down again, to be taken over by aggressive distorted guitars and energetic drums at 7.29. And it abruptly ends.
Track 5, The Sigh Of Summer (The Long Road, pt III). The track begins with a slow and dreamy composition, quite beautiful. Lots of different sounds merging together from drums, guitars, possibly a keyboard and various other instruments. 3 minutes in the elements climax as the vocals begin and the music continues to build and pick up speed with lead tremolo guitars over a frenzy of drums. The song then alternates between various slower sections with chunky riffs until the lead guitar comes back in for a ripping solo which then morphs into a harmony with another guitar. A frenzied finish fades out to the haunting sound of a Native American flute and the sound of footsteps on snow again.
Norwegian Nights is track 6. I have always wanted to visit Norway so I am interested to listen to this track. An array of different string instruments introduce the song, so much going on! The sounds intertwine and merge together seamlessly to create a tantalising journey of sound which takes the mind to so many places all at once. Lunn’s clean vocals join in to briefly describe the story behind this particular piece of music. This is a track that makes the mind reflect and meditate; I could quite happily listen to this one for a couple of hours.
In Silence is the second last song of the album. A powerful rush of aggressive sound hits from the start, blast beats and magnificent guitars drive forward relentlessly but with subtle changes. The change at 1.40 is just incredible! So uplifting! The use of the soaring guitars, slow but lashing drums, Winterherz’s vocals and the keyboard work absolute magic. Another balance of slower paced moments with acoustic instruments and aggressive, distorted sections keeps the track’s narrative progressing.
The last track of the album Chase the Grain has a joyful sound to it, with a soaring, repeating phrase on the violins layered with pacey drums and extended guitars. One minute in the violins cease and the soaring guitar sound takes over until Dave Condon’s soaring, high vocals and Tanner Anderson’s backing vocals become the focus. 3 minutes in an acoustic section begins, the key used giving a sense of uneasiness. Distorted instruments join the fray again with the vocals. An eerie acoustic section begins at 6.06, with a sense of going into battle with the use of a bell and choir samples, the drums soon pick up the pace and the vocals climax as the layers of sound finish, arrive and begin again with chunky riffs, groovy guitars and emotive sounds. The track quietens abruptly for the last minute for an acoustic guitar part and the album ends.
I had to listen to this album a few times and become completely immersed. The overwhelming outpouring of emotion throughout this album is truly incredible. While I understood the emotions that were being conveyed by the band from reading the blurb I felt my own life experiences coming to the surface and relating to the music. This album is food for the soul, giving the listener a complete sense of spiritual and mental wellbeing, as if they have climbed a mountain, and only now, are finally able to survey the world around them. Whether that was the band’s intention or not, I have never heard anything like it.
1. The Echoes of a Disharmonic Evensong
2. Where Mountains Pierce the Sky
3. One last fire (The Long Road, pt I)
4. Capricious Miles (The Long Road, pt II)
5. The Sigh Of Summer (The Long Road, pt III)
6. Norwegian Nights
7. In Silence
8. Chase the Grain
Pre-order CD: http://www.nordvis.com/store/product_info.php?products_id=207
Pre-order LP: http://www.nordvis.com/store/product_info.php?products_id=202
Also available via digital services like SPOTIFY, ITUNES, THE ORCHARD, YOUTUBE.
The Gatefold 2LP edition features 2 transparent blue records both with yellow opaque splatter.
A.Lunn.- drums, guitar, bass, vocals,, Native American Flute, banjo, mandolin, resonator guitar, dobro, keyboards, samples, recording, art, lyrics and songs.
Johan Becker- violin, Moog, additional singing vocals
Winterherz – guest vocals on “In Silence”
Ben Smith – guest vocals on “Capricious Miles” and “The Sigh of Summer”
Tanner Anderson – backing vocals on “Chase the Grain”
Dave Condon – guest vocals on “Chase The Grain”
Spenser Morris – drum recording
Colin Marston – additional keys, orchestral arrangement, percussion, engineering and producing,
Photography – Bekah Lunn and Tanner Anderson
Photos taken in Crosby Manitou State Park, Silver Bay, MN.