By Justin C. When I got back into metal a few years ago, it took me a while to sort through all the subgenres to find out what I liked. (And given that there are 378 known subgenres with "-core" attached to them alone, it took a while.) As a result, I came to a lot of subgenres backwards. I don't have a story of my transformative introduction to black metalBy Justin C.
When I got back into metal a few years ago, it took me a while to sort through all the subgenres to find out what I liked. (And given that there are 378 known subgenres with "-core" attached to them alone, it took a while.) As a result, I came to a lot of subgenres backwards. I don't have a story of my transformative introduction to black metal by listening to A Blaze in the Northern Sky or De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas. For me, Falls of Rauros was one of my entry points. The Light That Dwells in Rotten Wood is still one of my all-time favorite albums, and I’ve been chomping at the bit for more ever since. I discovered Panopticon a bit later on, but Kentucky is simply brilliant, so I actually pre-ordered this split on vinyl, even though I don't own a record player. I wanted that download card in my hot little hands as soon as I could get it, even if that meant getting a big black circle that I didn't need, but now both bands have put their halves of the split up on their respective Bandcamp pages.
Falls of Rauros' two songs have more of that blend of modern folk and black metal that resonated so deeply with me when I first encountered them. Their acoustic guitar work remains heartfelt and integral to their sound, although their first track, "Unavailing," sees the band mixing in some tasty, classic rock-esque guitar harmonies and bluesy, bent-note riffs. But as good as "Unavailing" is, "The Purity of Isolation" is a true showstopper. My favorite part comes about halfway through the song, when the main melodic line is put front and center. I can only guess as to precisely what they're doing here--I don't know if the sound is purely electronic or if there's an instrument underneath being tweaked, but it's haunting. At times it sounds like a cello, and at other points almost like a saxophone. It's accompanied by quietly but insistently strummed acoustic guitar, and it's heart-breakingly beautiful. It remains so when it then explodes into a full tremolo-picked, blast-beated fury. It makes me feel like I should be on a mountaintop, screaming my lungs out in sweet relief. It's probably one of my favorite things the band has done.
I was initially thrown a bit by Panopticon's half. I still very much have Kentucky in my ears, so I was surprised when the blackened Appalachia of that album was replaced by the classic Norwegian black metal sound of these songs. (I shouldn't have been surprised, though, because Austin Lunn hasn't gotten his well-deserved praise by churning out the same material over and over again.) But that said, it didn't take me long to warm up to these songs. As many people who write about music will tell you, if you're going to work with a well-established sound, you have to play the ever-loving hell out of it, and Lunn does just that. Granted, this is Norwegian black metal filtered through Panopticon's very distinctive sound. There's no mistaking Lunn's roars over the infectious tremolo riffs and furious rhythms. The songs aren't steeped in cold, Norwegian atmosphere as much as they are just downright spooky. I don't know if "Can You Loan Me a Raven?" is an allusion to Edgar Allen Poe's work, but it would make a brilliant soundtrack to it.
Sometimes splits can feel a little schizophrenic, but somehow Fall of Rauros' blackened folk and Panopticon's Norwegian revival work together. Having the split on two separate Bandcamp pages gives you the option of picking and choosing between the two halves, but I think fans of black metal will want to get both and keep these songs together.