The release of Panopticon’s fifth full length is no doubt one of my most anticipated albums of 2014. I was a fan early on, hearing the self titled debut in 2009. From the moment that album was done, I was hooked. Hearing this artist over the years progress in his sound and touch on new themes with each album/split has been a great journey as a fan. 2012’s Kentucky was an album that made its way onto many year end lists. Mine included; it was my album of the year for 2012, and one I wasn't sure he could top. But with his latest release, Roads To The North, he may have done just that.
One thing I have enjoyed over the years is how the themes Austin touches on have become more personal. His first two full lengths (and the splits) in between) talked of topics that were more global. But that changed with his split with Skagos; suddenly the topics became much more personal. As his life changed with the addition of a child, traveling away from family to other countries, and the starting of his own business, the lyrical themes became more about the effect these actions had on him, and then with albums like Social Disservices and Kentucky he drew from personal experiences to talk about the universal topics of mental health and the plight of the working man from his particular perspective. It’s no surprise that by doing this, each of those albums have become records that have depth and ones that I find myself being more attached to as a fan.
Panopticon’s brand of Black Metal has always been of the Atmospheric kind. You can always rely on great guitar work, hyper drumming, and emotive vocals; both harsh and sometimes clean. With each album he has added a new element and Roads is no different. With this album he has added hints of Melodic Death Metal, along with expanding on the Folk music and instrumentation used on Kentucky. The trick that he pulls off is not the usage of these elements, it’s that they never feel forced. They come across so natural, as if the American Folk music is as much a part of him as the Black Metal. For many years many the Scandinavian Black Metal bands have successfully been adding their countries style of Folk to Black Metal. So doing the same with American Folk just seem like a sensible thing, and with Panopticon and Roads to the North it certainly is.
No review that I am capable of writing will really do Roads to the North any justice. I find him to be THE most exciting thing in Black Metal today; with each album he just seem to get better. With Kentucky I feared he may have reached his pinnacle. With Roads To The North he has shown that he is only hitting his stride and there is much more to come.
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