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Panopticon - "Kentucky" (CD)

Panopticon - "Kentucky" CD cover image

"Kentucky" track listing:

1. Bernheim Forest In Spring (2:54)
2. Bodies Under The Falls (10:28)
3. Come All Ye Coal Miners (4:13)
4. Black Soot And Red Blood (10:11)
5. Which Side Are You On? (3:00)
6. Killing The Giants As They Sleep (12:25)
7. Black Waters (4:57)
8. Kentucky (3:21)

Reviewed by on June 29, 2012

"Seidr fans will hear some of that band’s touches on 'Kentucky,' and like 'For Winter Fire,' this album is an engrossing trek into the heartlands of the United States."

In the early ‘30s, coal miners in Kentucky fought against intolerable working and living conditions. They unionized and had to contend with strikebreakers, as well as coal mining and government officials. This situation sets up the central theme running throughout Panopticon’s “Kentucky.” With a folksy slant to black metal, “Kentucky” is an audio experience of that time period. The struggles of coal miners, the destruction of precious wild land, and the contempt for the welfare of human life by corporate executives is expressed through covers of traditional folk songs and samples of dialogue from people knowledgeable of the struggles.

Elitist black metal fans will scoff at all the acoustic breaks and lengthy samples, though most of them may tune out after the banjo-filled opening instrumental “Bernheim Forest In Spring.” This immersion into the Southern backwoods feels quaint and natural, even against the backdrop of the inevitable blast of coldness the tremolo riffs will bring to the album a few minutes in. Though there are frequent throwbacks to these Southern roots, none of it comes off as a forceful insertion.

In the past, Panopticon has gone for “the longer, the better” philosophy with the music, and “Kentucky” sticks to this thought process with half of the songs over 10 minutes long. “Bodies Under The Falls” is the most stripped-down tune on “Kentucky,” with only a low-key acoustic jam to break up the terrifying pace. “Black Soot and Red Blood” hinges its bets on an engrossing story from an older gentlemen about striking to increase wages, and “Killing The Giants As They Sleep” features the noisiest minutes of any black metal track recorded so far this year.

“Kentucky” has been marked as a black metal album, and that’s only one side to this complicated album. Almost split down the middle are the acoustic instrumentals and three covers of well-known folk songs, which were written as a response to coal mining and the lush forests contained within Kentucky itself. Austin Lunn aka “A. Lundr” (Seidr, Agnosis) does a convincing job with giving these songs an energetic makeover, with clean vocals and extra instrumental work bolstering their importance on the album.

While “Kentucky” briefs the listener on events that happened decades ago (and are still going on in the area), its message of standing up against oppression and fighting for a better life is still invaluable today. It may throw off fans of the genre expecting a vicious approach, but the only real knock on the album is the plodding “Black Waters.” A. Lundr has been the lone member of Panopticon for its current existence, and this project is his vision of black metal. Seidr fans will hear some of that band’s touches on “Kentucky,” and like “For Winter Fire,” this album is an engrossing trek into the heartlands of the United States.

Highs: Black metal meets Southern folk/country, depth to the lyrics, inspired work by lone member A. Lundr

Lows: "Black Waters" is an underwhelming song, some may be thrown off by the Southern flair of certain tunes

Bottom line: A stellar black metal record that is far from traditional, and always dynamic with its Southern folk/country flavor.

Rated 4 out of 5 skulls
4 out of 5 skulls

Rating Description
Rated 5 out of 5 skulls Perfection. (No discernable flaws; one of the reviewer's all-time favorites)
Rated 4.5 out of 5 skulls Near Perfection. (An instant classic with some minor imperfections)
Rated 4 out of 5 skulls Excellent. (An excellent effort worth picking up)
Rated 3.5 out of 5 skulls Good. (A good effort, worth checking out or picking up)
Rated 3 out of 5 skulls Decent. (A decent effort worth checking out if the style fits your tastes)
Rated 2.5 out of 5 skulls Average. (Nothing special; worth checking out if the style fits your taste)
Rated 2 out of 5 skulls Fair. (There is better metal out there)
< 2 skulls Pretty Bad. (Don't bother)