Panopticon – …And Again Into the Light
Heightened emotion has long been a staple of Austin Lunn’s music — Panopticon have traversed the world of black metal using personal struggle, social awareness and economic disparity to build a view of a creator who is using their music as a tool to navigate the hardships that they face. Whether that is in reflection or in solidarity with others at the edge, Lunn uses Panopticon to organise feelings of despair and hope in a way that feels organic and true. Previous records have touched on these subjects either directly – Social Disservices and Kentucky, for example – or wrapped their meanings in metaphors that Lunn holds close to his heart as is the case in Autumn Eternal.
Lyrics are not included or published and so their significance is left to the listener to decipher which allows for your own thoughts and experiences to colour the work. This intentional holding back is enough for Lunn to explore deeper secrets and journeys while giving his audience the ability to latch onto something which resonates personally. It could be the soaring strings of “Dead Loons” which evokes images of the sun rising over the forest, the bright hope of light tempered by the melancholy dirge that is played as it pushes for release or the doomed sorrow of the guitar lines during “A Snowless Winter” that give you pause for introspection but both allow you to step inside the world of Panopticon and experience pain, beauty and hope in equal measure.
The subtle beginnings of “…And Again Into the Light” threads gentle acoustic guitar through soft, cleanly sung vocals that are reminiscent of the folkier elements of The Scars of Man on the Once Nameless Wilderness I and II while a violin (Charlie Anderson) creates drama that peeks through the branches of the song, presenting a glimpse of what will follow in later moments. As the song flows beautifully into “Dead Loons,” the connections between the tracks give rise to an understanding that each song here is a part of the same past, present, and future, that each song marks a point in the life of its creator and that each one is a step towards growth on the search for hope.
“Dead Loons” is, for the most part, a gently moving piece that lays its heart in the clearing of the forest, a brief moment of calm in a world that is constantly moving, before it bursts into fiery light as Lunn vocal aggression is unleashed and the song twists into something much more menacing. The rage splinters the quiet and as it radiates out into the peace, we see the difficulty in trying to keep emotions locked inside and that eventually they will simmer over, exploding into the serenity that we have created for ourselves and changing the world as we know it. That anger tips over into “Rope Burn Exit” as does the strings of Anderson and the beautiful, full sound of Patrick Urban’s cello, both instruments adding tension and texture to the song in a way that enables Panopticon to expand their sound into more cinematic paths.
There is a luminous sense of loss during “A Snowless Winter” that transcends the lyrics as the song moves through despondent guitars, synthesised choral lines that conjure images of cloaked figures singing odes to those who have passed, and a distinct forlorn energy that emanates from Lunn’s vocal delivery. The idea of this snowless winter being a totem to a life long lost, something that you want to hold and touch and see again is palpable during the closing moments as the song builds to a crescendo of drums and climbing riffs before “Moth Eaten Soul” pulls its energy into itself and lies down the foundation for being one of the heaviest and most wrathful Panopticon songs to date.
The song roils in tempestuous guitar and bombastic drumming which pummels from the outset and as Lunn’s voice becomes increasingly bitter as the song progresses, we see that, for this moment at least, hope is a long way away. The delicate touches of “As Golden Laughter Echoes” call back to the album’s first track as it brings a flicker of light back to proceedings, almost as though it’s needed in order to restore clarity. A breath before tackling the next step of the journey with “The Embers at Dawn,” a song that begins with the gorgeous melancholy of Erik Moggridge’s (Aerial Ruin) voice, wrapping you in a protective and warm blanket as he charts the course for finding the pathways of hope.
Those pathways are strewn with obstacles and as Jan van Berlekom (Waldgeflüster) enters the fray with his screams, the road to happiness is a difficult one and that battles must be constantly fought – with ourselves and with others – in order to find the route that benefits us the most without a great cost to those around us. …And Again Into the Light aims to show that the fight is not lost, despite what we may think, and that while life offers struggle, it also offers beauty and as the song ends we hear sounds of nature and the footsteps of our narrator making their way through the darkness to the light that shimmers at the end of the proverbial tunnel.
“Know Hope” brings the album to a close and while it may seem like the song would be a shimmering beacon in the gloom considering the voyage that the record has taken us on, Lunn gives much to think about as the track begins on dynamic screams and intense riffs before segueing into an excerpt of a speech from Crass’s Gee Vaucher about their artistic inspirations, ones which seem aligned with Lunn’s himself, giving another small glimpse into what drives this artist to create. As the song builds with a ferocious intent, the hope that has been sought never quite reveals itself, at least not in clear terms as the anger fades into the sounds of nature once again and the light echoes with promise, as though the untouched world has healed this narrator in some way.
For Lunn, and for many, that moment of peace and clarity is something that needs to be continually worked on by remembering past mistakes and happiness, coming to terms with experiences that changed us and learning that we are human — fallible, with huge emotions and the ability to process those with the right help. If that’s music, then Panopticon are the perfect guide to show how imperfect existence is but with the right tools it can be navigated and perhaps even understood.
Listen and purchase from Bindrune Recordings here.