Throughout his career as Panopticon, Austin Lunn has displayed a mastery over his craft. There might have been a time when the idea of fusing black metal with Americana and folk might have made for an awkward blend, but Lunn’s approach to songwriting allows him to draw upon the sonic and emotional qualities of these genres to find a common ground. Taking the ferocity of black metal and the storytelling aspect of folk—weaving somber sounding violin strings through blasting drums and shredding guitars—Lunn delivers an experience that feels both primal and ethereal. Whether he’s exploring the fragility of nature, the exploitation of workers by corporations, or something more personal, the intimacy of Lunn’s music has an ability to touch upon something deeper.
Panopticon’s latest studio album, …And Again Into the Light, is a profound work of introspection and artistry, further deepening the folk/black metal project’s body of work. The record represents a grim part of Lunn’s life, specifically that regarding his challenges with mental illness. In each song, Lunn unleashes a flood of feeling, casting essences of despair, turmoil, and even hope. In the liner notes of the record, he shares, “This record is dedicated to all who refuse to give up and continue to struggle for light and beauty in this world.” There is a rawness to this music that is haunting and cathartic, capturing the spiraling journey that one might endure as they face their own struggle with mental illness.
The album’s richly arranged instrumentation evokes illustrative and sensory detail. Listening to “Dead Loons” conjures the feeling of being surrounded by darkness, whereas “The Embers at Dawn” provides the kind of stillness and warmth one might feel while watching the sunrise. Lunn’s songwriting and musicianship come together for a soul-stirring presentation throughout the record; through aggressive drumming, elegant sounding strings, and feral sounding guitar rhythms, each song isn’t simply heard but felt, providing a sincere vulnerability.
Mood transitions beautifully to and from songs. Icy, vicious electric guitar riffs whiplash their way into cold, still minimalism—blasting drums and violins blossoming into a harrowing air. The way drums and the shrieking of strings suddenly transition into a moment of gentleness, the instrumentation then returning to a wicked speed. “Moth Eaten Soul” delivers crushing black metal, only to then shift into a smooth banjo progression on “As Golden Laughter Echoes,” the two providing effective, yet contrasting emotional atmospheres. Lunn never misses an opportunity to dial up the sonic intensity; whether it is a heavier moment versus a quieter one, the technicality of each composition exuding a psychic sadness and/or ease that washes over the listener, inviting them to sit with the music. The level of chemistry and variety in each song is remarkable; cuts like “Rope Burn Exit” pack so much when it comes to the contrasting tone of guitar and other string instrumentation, let alone the various tonal moods the shifting tempo provides.
There is a powerful intimacy to …And Again Into the Light, a form of heaviness that requires the listener not only be fully present, but likewise to be prepared to feel consumed by the emotional weight of the music.
A graduate of Columbia College Chicago's Creative Writing Program, Michael Pementel is a published music journalist, specializing in metal and its numerous subgenres. Along with his work for Treble and Bloody Disgusting, he has also written for Consequence of Sound, Metal Injection, Dread Central, Electronic Gaming Monthly and the Funimation blog.