Panopticon's new album, Autumn Eternal, is surprising in a lot of ways. One of the biggest surprises to me is that it's not being hailed as a masterpiece. People should be running through the streets, tears streaming down their faces, clutching their copies and proclaiming its brilliance to anyone who will listen. Main man Austin Lunn, disappointed after his previous, also-amazing album leaked before it was ready, understandably kept a tighter wrap on this one, which I think is part of the reason it's not getting as much attention as, say, Kentucky did. So I'll have to do my part to shine a bright light on this one
If you listen to the opener, "Tamarack's Gold Returns", you'd be forgiven for thinking that Lunn is returning to a bluegrass/folk-inspired work like Kentucky. This album does not have that heavy bluegrass influence, but let it be known that I'd listen to a full album of music like this. It's not a throwaway opener by any means. But the very next track, "Into the North Woods", kicks in with the usual Panopticon black metal intensity, with swelling tremolos and intricate percussion. It's as good as any fan could hope for based on that intro alone, but near the track's end, we're treated to a martial-sounding drum pattern with mournful-sounding coronet above it, eventually joined by what sounds like chimes and perhaps a fife (or more likely, their electronic equivalents). It's a dramatic shift, but it’s not a startling one. It works beautifully.
In fact, almost all of these songs feature stunning turns that work against all odds. "Oaks Ablaze" starts out ferocious, but then halfway through takes a turn into what I can only describe as a dark 80s movie soundtrack, featuring a rolling tom pattern on the drums, ringing arpeggios, and a bass tone so rich you'll want to spread it on your toast and eat it. "Pale Ghosts" dips into a surprisingly sunny and major-key sound for a song with "ghosts" in its title. And check out those beautiful clean vocals! I think these juxtapositions are the key to the overall feeling of the album. Culturally, we see autumn as an ending and spring as a rebirth, but maybe this is an album that switches that idea on its head, treating autumn as a celebration of survival, not a sad prelude to hibernation. Lunn hasn't provided lyrics with this album, so I could be completely missing the point, but I can only speak to how it makes me feel, and it's a nuanced emotional state that features melancholy mixed with triumph. Then again, I’ve always felt that music is the art form we use to express those subtle feelings we can’t otherwise articulate.
This is a rich, hour-long album that I'll be coming back to a lot. Sure, maybe I've drifted into fanboy territory when it comes to this project, but I'll be damned if Lunn didn't top Kentucky with this one, and that's a truly high mark to reach. Get this album and start proselytizing to those who haven't caught on yet. This is album-of-the-decade material.
[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]