August 17, 2012

Panopticon - Kentucky (2012)

Well, this has taken me by surprise. Black metal has been fused with many things - death metal, thrash metal, crust, hardcore, j-pop, you name it - but so far no one has had the tremendous cojones of mixing it with old-timey bluegrass music.

Cue Panopticon, a one-man band from Louisville, Kentucky, whose latest album, also called Kentucky, manages to successfully marry atmospheric black metal with old fashioned Americana sensibilities, resulting in a brilliant mash-up that will surprise you with how good it actually is. The album's main focus, believe it or not, are the political and social turmoils related to the coal mining industry in XIXth century Kentucky. A strange and somewhat obscure subject, for sure, but also one that hasn't been explored in black metal, as far as I know, which makes it feel fresh and interesting. There are two main categories of songs on Kentucky: 

  • Long-ass post-black metal songs that run for over 10 minutes, comprised of distant banshee screeches drowning in a sea of fuzzed-out guitar riffs with varied drumming and flutes and keyboards providing beautiful atmospherics.
  • Acoustic banjo-driven working-man anthems with clean, nasal vocals, which, as far as I'm concerned, are the highlight of this album. Especially Come All Ye Coal Miners, with its energetic banjo melodies and beautiful fiddle and upright bass work. 
These two kinds of songs alternate happily on the album without the contrast between them being  too jarring. One minute you're listening to harsh black metal, then the next you're dancing on a tree stump to the sweet sounds of old fashioned bluegrass tunes. It's perfect. It's also gimmicky as fuck, but I'm willing to let that slide and enjoy the music. Kentucky is certainly one of 2012's most interesting albums and I can already picture it on my end of the year list. I can also picture the advent of more strange lyrical themes in black metal: firefighter black metal, police man black metal, sewage worker black metal, hot dog vendor black metal and also the urban black metal tag to encompass it all. Can't wait for these!

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