Panopticon – Kentucky

By Rachel Hacker

In my journey to kvltness, I typically find out about bands just weeks before I impulsively ask to review them. It doesn’t matter that the band might have formed when I was still learning my multiplication tables, because to me, that band is new and exciting. Panopticon hasn’t necessarily been around forever, but they’re one of those bands that’s exciting and new to me currently. The way Kentucky combines bluegrass and black metal leaves me wishing to wear a bullet belt and overalls at the same time. It was Fashion week recently, so maybe these two things go together better than expected. The brainchild behind this band is Austin Lund, who has done “everything” since the band’s 2007 inception. The guy’s got some musical chops, and his instrumentals/vocals are lovely. Interestingly enough, there is another guy named Austin Lund affiliated with the band, as well.

Sometimes when a band incorporates two distinctly different genres, the music just sounds gimmicky. However, Lund took great care and skill into making Kentucky a masterwork of this genre combination. Maybe I’ll call it “kvltgrass?” As a native of Southern Ohio, I’ve been through Kentucky on numerous occasions. Once you look past the run-down Arbys’ off of interstate exits, Kentucky is beautiful and rich in southern culture. I found the album almost sentimental in nature, because I have a lot of ancestors from the hills of Kentucky.

The album opener, “Bernheim Forest in Spring,” is all instrumental, with jagged string instrument lines that foreshadow darker music to come. “Bodies Over the Falls” immediately follows, and changes the pace to black metal and shrieking tin whistles. I picture the tin whistles as an interpretation of train-whistles echoing through the countryside. At this point, the storyline starts to unfurl. The whole album depicts the thoughts of poor coal miners who have had their land turned from beauty to ruin, due to coal mining. The album continues on, with heart-wrenching lyrics about the people of Kentucky who lost their landscape to coal mining. The final track is also the title track, and has some rather lively bluegrass instrumentals. I found this final track a unique way to end such a bleak story. I felt optimism and hope while listening to it, as if the state Kentucky contains eternal resilience to whatever gets thrown at it. This is an album I will be proud to add to my collection, and it’s one of the few metal albums that’s evoked so many emotions in me.

(Handmade Birds/Pagan Flames)

Sean Palmerston

Sean is the founder/publisher of Hellbound.ca; he has also written about metal for Exclaim!, Metal Maniacs, Roadburn, Unrestrained! and Vice.