Music / Panopticon

Panopticon is a Black Metal band from Minnesota (formerly Louisville, KY) consisting of Austin Lunn. The band has attracted considerable notoriety in recent years for two factors making the band fairly unique in the crowded field of black metal: Lunn's earnest anarchism, and the substantial bluegrass influence on much of Panopticon's music, which gives the band a unique, distinctly American sound in a genre in which many bands have simply been accused of aping the sound of Norwegian second-wave bands. Those are hardly the only things that make the band notable, however, and Lunn has built a substantial discography with Panopticon and as a member of several other bands (including Throndt, Falls of Rauros, Seidr, and Kólga) that has built him quite a reputation.

Panopticon's style tends to vary substantially from release to release, but listeners can generally expect a rather large amount of Epic Rocking. Other genres that have been known to influence Panopticon, besides the ones listed above, include Shoegaze, Hardcore Punk, Crust Punk, Progressive Rock, Post-Rock, and Melodic Death Metal.

Lunn began performing Panopticon's material live with a four-person backing band in 2016. The live shows have generally been highly acclaimed.

The official Bandcamp site, where you may stream very nearly the band's entire discographynote  for free or purchase each release for a small fee, is here. For the identically named album by Isis (both are named after Jeremy Bentham's concept for a prison), see Isis.

Discography

  • Panopticon (2008)
  • It's Later Than You Think (2009, split with Wheels Within Wheels)
  • Collapse (2009; reissued on vinyl in 2010 with a bonus track featuring Rob "The Baron" Miller of Amebix)
  • Lake of Blood/Panopticon (2009, split)
  • ...On the Subject of Mortality (2010)
    • Panopticon/When Bitter Spring Sleeps (2010, split; includes first half of ...OtSoM)
    • Skagos/Panopticon (2010, split; includes second half of ...OtSoM)
  • Wheels Within Wheels/Panopticon II (2011, split)
  • Social Disservices (2011)
  • Kentucky (2012)
  • Vestiges/Panopticon (2013, split)
  • Brotherhood (2014, split with Falls of Rauros)
  • Roads to the North (2014)
  • Autumn Eternal (2015)
  • Panopticon/Waldgeflüster (2016, split)
  • Revisions of the Past (2016, anthology containing remastered versions of ...On the Subject of Mortality and Social Disservices)
  • "Sheep in Wolves' Clothing" (2017, single)

Tropes

  • Album Intro Track: Several albums have them, including (depending upon how you define the trope) the self-titled, the Lake of Blood split, Kentucky, and Autumn Eternal. The "collapsed" version of "...Speaking..." on It's Later Than You Think has some of the hallmarks of an album intro track, but is longer than the metal track that follows it, so it could be considered a bizarre inversion of this trope in some ways. Meanwhile, Vestiges' side of their split with Panopticon has "VII", which effectively serves as the intro to the much heavier "VIII".
  • All There in the Manual: The original release of the self-titled album included essays that further explained the concepts behind the songs. In some cases, these were longer than the lyrics themselves (particularly "Emma's Song", whose accompanying essay was roughly three pages long).
  • Ambient: The traditional folk song "Black Waters" is reimagined as an example of this genre on Kentucky
  • Anarchy Is Chaos: Completely averted, naturally. If anything, the trope could be said to be inverted; Collapse suggests that the abuses of capitalism and government may cause the collapse of society.
  • Artistic License – Economics: Not on the band's part, but the sample of Glenn Beck at the start of "The Death of Baldr and the Coming War" makes the mistake of treating government finance like household finance. As Paul Krugman explains, this metaphor is broken on several levels, not least of which is that governments don't face the same level of obligations to repay debt swiftly that individuals do. Much of the debt is debt America owes to itself, and the debt to foreign countries is balanced out by the fact that America's government also controls shares in other countries' debt to about a 9 to 10 ratio. It's unlikely that Lunn's choice of sample was intended to be complimentary to Beck, though the album could be considered something of a thought experiment asking what could have happened if the doom and gloom from the samples were actually correct and the country truly had been headed to collapse (hence the album title).
  • Bilingual Bonus: Several samples in ...On the Subject of Mortality, being from The Seventh Seal, are in Swedish. Apart from that, "La passione di Sacco & Vanzetti", befitting its subjects, is in Italian.
  • Black Metal: Panopticon's primary style.
  • Bluegrass: Shows up on parts of It's Later Than You Think, Collapse, Kentucky, Roads to the North, and Autumn Eternal.
  • Bolero Effect: Several songs establish a harmonic motif with clean guitars before moving into blasting black metal sections with the same riff or chord progression. "The Death of Baldr and the Coming War" is a good example.
  • Bomb-Throwing Anarchists: Also averted. "The Ghosts of Haymarket Square" deconstructs the reaction to the Haymarket massacre.
  • Breather Episode: Most albums have at least one of these. To name a few representative examples: the bluegrass coda of "The Death of Baldr and the Coming War", the acoustic instrumental break on "Merkstave", the bluegrass/folk songs on Kentucky, "The Long Road Part I: One Last Fire..." and "Norwegian Nights" on Roads to the North. There are many, many more.
  • Capitalism Is Bad: In particular, Collapse suggests that capitalist excess will cause a collapse of society, while Kentucky is almost entirely an account of the environmental and labour abuses inherent in coal mining.
    • The song "Flag Burner, Torch Bearer" from the self-titled has some very negative remarks on capitalism, to say the least.
  • Cluster F-Bomb: "A Letter". The lyrics haven't been officially released and the vocals are too low in the mix to make out all of them, but there's clearly quite a bit of this in it.
  • Concept Album: Collapse, ...On the Subject of Mortality, Social Disservices, Kentucky, Roads to the North, and Autumn Eternal (the latter three of which make up a trilogy of thematically related albums) all qualify.
  • The Cover Changes the Gender: "Come All Ye Coal Miners" referred to the singer being "a coal miner's wife" in the original version. Lunn naturally changed this in his cover (to "son").
  • Cover Version: Three songs on Kentucky are Lunn's covers of folk songs associated with the labour movement in Kentucky. Panopticon has also covered two songs by Amebix, "ICBM" (on the self-titled) and "The Beginning of the End" (on the vinyl version of Collapse), and one song by Suicide Nation, "Collapse & Die" (on the Vestiges split). Meanwhile, Waldgeflüster covered Panopticon's own "Norwegian Nights" on their split together, while Panopticon returned the favour by covering Waldgeflüster's "Trauerweide II".
  • Digital Piracy Is Okay: Mostly so, anyway. Shortly after launching the band, Lunn said he wasn't terribly bothered by people sharing his music, as long as they included all the album liner notes and artwork when doing so; if it helps him get his message out, he seems OK with it. He's a bit more bothered by album leaks, but that seems to be in no small part because they usually have inferior audio quality and don't have the finished artwork, in addition to throwing off schedule distribution plans that may have been locked into place months in advance. Panopticon's Bandcamp site allows you to stream almost the entire discography for free (like most Bandcamp sites), but the releases are only available as downloads for small fees (as of October 2017, the largest appears to be US$7 for Autumn Eternal, Roads to the North, and each disc of Revisions of the Past; other releases, including earlier full-length albums, tend to be no more than $3-4).
  • Downer Ending: Kentucky, in a way - not the music itself, but the real-life subtext behind the album. The album details labour struggles in Harlan County, Kentucky (heavily sampling the film Harlan County U.S.A. to tell its story), but ultimately, the labour organising in the region fell apart, and the increasing automation of coal mining, employing the environmentally destructive practice of mountaintop removal in the process, has resulted in most of the former miners losing their often high-paying (albeit dangerous) jobs. The area is now economically devastated and tends to be culturally reactionary (though parts of the state, including Lunn's former hometown of Louisville, are more progressive). Lunn donates at least some of his profits from the album to Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, a charity that fights against mountaintop removal, but despite the media's increased focus on coal miners, it looks increasingly unlikely that trends in the region will or even can be reversed.
  • Epic Instrumental Opener: Several songs. The vocals on "...Speaking..." don't enter until about halfway into the track.
  • Epic Rocking:
    • There are probably more Panopticon songs over the six-minute mark than under it. A list of examples over ten minutes in length includes:
      • Panopticon: "Flag Burner, Torch Bearer" (10:40), "I, Hedonist" (15:08), "...Speaking..." (12:51), "The Lay of Grimnir" (13:06)
      • Lake of Blood split: "La passione di Sacco & Vanzetti" (11:37)
      • It's Later Than You Think: "...Speaking...(Collapsed Version)" (10:40)
      • Collapse: "The Death of Baldr and the Coming War" (15:43), "Aptrgangr" (15:11), "Merkstave" (10:02)
      • ...On the Subject of Mortality: "Living in the Valley of the Shadow of Death" (11:29)
      • Second Wheels Within Wheels split: "The Road to Bergen" (10:33), "From Bergen to Jotunheim Forest" (10:53), "The White Mountain View" (10:57) (so, every song on it, since WWW's two songs also qualify)
      • Social Disservices: "Resident" (11:15), "Patient" (20:01)
      • Kentucky: "Bodies Under the Falls" (10:25), "Black Soot and Red Blood" (10:04), "Killing the Giants as They Sleep" (12:19) (so, all three metal songs)
      • Roads to the North: "Where Mountains Pierce the Sky" (12:43), "The Long Road" (23:28, and in three movements), "Chase the Grain" (12:14)
      • Autumn Eternal: "A Superior Lament" (11:01)
      • Waldgeflüster split: "Håkan's Song" (12:35)
    • Also commonly occurs on the other side of Panopticon splits; every band Panopticon has recorded splits with has exhibited this trope at some time in their career, although not always on the split (in particular, Lake of Blood didn't really begin to delve into this trope until after their split with Panopticon). Restricting oneself purely to examples from splits that exceed ten minutes:
      • Wheels Within Wheels: "White Light Rains Down On..." (13:48), "A Burial of the Mother of Orion" (11:34), "A Splinter of Hope in the Blackest of Hearts" (13:42)
      • When Bitter Spring Sleeps: "We Cower in the Storms of Her Retribution" (11:14)
      • Skagos: "Smoldering Embers" (12:33), "Anamnesis II: A Dry, Sterile Thunder, Without Rain" (15:15)
      • Vestiges: "VIII" (13:01, though technically, "VII" is mostly an intro to "VIII"; the entire composition is 18:22)
      • Falls of Rauros: "Unavailing" (11:50)
      • Waldgeflüster: "Der Traumschänder" (12:20)
  • Ethical Hedonism: "I, Hedonist" is a look at what, exactly, hedonism even means, and ultimately concludes that the best ethical system is roughly what TV Tropes describes as this trope.
  • Fading into the Next Song/Siamese Twin Songs: Frequently.
    • Self-titled: the first four tracks; "Archetype"->"Emma's Song"
    • Collapse: "Merkstave"->"Idavoll"
    • Social Disservices: "Subject"->"Patient" (except on the original vinyl pressing, where these were split up to avoid having almost a half-hour of music on an album side)
    • Kentucky: "Bernheim Forest in Spring"->"Bodies Under the Falls"; "Come All Ye Coal Miners"->"Black Soot and Red Blood"; "Which Side Are You On?"->"Killing the Giants as They Sleep"->"Black Waters"
    • Brotherhood: "Can You Loan Me a Raven?"->"Gods of Flame"
    • Roads to the North: "The Echoes of a Disharmonic Evensong"->"Where Mountains Pierce the Sky"; the entire "The Long Road" suite; "Norwegian Nights"->"In Silence"
    • Autumn Eternal: On the CD/digital version, the first four tracks; tracks five through seven. The vinyl version instead makes each side gapless, which means the "Into the North Woods" no longer fades into "Autumn Eternal" and "Pale Ghosts" no longer fades into "A Superior Lament", but, on the other hand, "A Superior Lament" now fades into "The Wind's Farewell", which wasn't the case on the CD/digital version.
  • Folk Metal: Several of Panopticon's albums qualify as this in addition to being Black Metal, though they're an unusually Appalachian take on the genre due to the bluegrass influence.
  • Green Aesop: Many songs have environmentalist themes. Lunn has also donated some of his profits from Kentucky to a charity fighting mountaintop removal and from the Lake of Blood split to animal rights organisations.
  • I Am the Band: Panopticon is a solo project. Session musicians and guest vocalists occasionally appear, but the band has always consisted solely of Lunn (except, from 2016 onwards, in live performances).
  • Indecipherable Lyrics: Can be averted at times, which is unusual for black metal. The decipherability of the lyrics sometimes has more to do with how high the vocals are placed in the mix than it does with the screaming. The second Wheels Within Wheels split and all releases from the Vestiges split through the Waldgeflüster split haven't had their lyrics released, as Lunn feels they're too personal, but it's still possible to decipher some of the lyrics for some songs (for instance, "A Letter" addresses the hypocrisy of right-wing Christianity; "Autumn Eternal" deals with Austin's regrets over what he appears to regard as a somewhat misspent youth; and "Håkan's Song" consists of his wishes for the future of his son, after whom the song is named).
  • Instrumentals: ...On the Subject of Mortality, Kentucky, Roads to the North, and Autumn Eternal have them. "Haunted America" could be considered one as well, since it only contains samples of speech.
  • Long Runner Lineup: It was founded in 2007 and has been Lunn's solo project the whole time, though obviously, live shows involve other musicians. There have also been occasional guest performers on Panopticon records (most frequently, violinist Johan Becker, who's also a member of the touring lineup), but they're always credited as session performers rather than as band members.
  • Loudness War: Averted. Panopticon's least dynamic record (the CD of Collapse) still comes in at DR7 (the LP was given a separate mastering that was more dynamic). Most of them are around DR10, and many of the splits have even more dynamic range (the Wheels Within Wheels splits average out at about DR12 and some tracks on On the Subject of Mortality reach up to DR15). The sole case of this trope being played straight in Panopticon's discography seems to be the track "La passione di Sacco & Vanzetti" from the Lake of Blood split, which comes out at DR5, but due to the other track on that split, "Haunted America", coming out at DR15 Panopticon's side of the split overall still comes out to DR9.
  • Melodic Death Metal: A noted influence on the metal parts of Roads to the North.
  • Mohs Scale of Rock and Metal Hardness: The metal portions are usually a 9 or a 10, while the acoustic portions go as low as 1.
  • Mood Whiplash: Used to great effect on Kentucky, where bluegrass songs fade directly into black metal songs. Other albums employ this often as well.
  • Non-Appearing Title: Applies to most, if not all, of the songs
  • Not Afraid to Die: "Black Soot and Red Blood" contains a sample of a woman saying, "I'm ready to die. Are you?"
  • Post-Rock: A major influence on nearly all of Lunn's work. He has named Godspeed You! Black Emperor as one of his favourite artists, so this should not be a surprise.
  • Progressive Rock: A major influence on "The Long Road" suite among other pieces.
  • Protest Song: Several songs could qualify, but the most Anvilicious is "Flag Burner, Torch Bearer".
  • Rearrange the Song: "...Speaking...(Collapsed Version)" is a bluegrass rendition of a metal song from the first album.
  • Recurring Riff: Maybe not quite to the level of "riff", but harmonic elements of "Autumn Eternal" reappear in "A Superior Lament".
  • Remaster: Revisions of the Past provides an unambiguously beneficial version of this trope; as with all of Panopticon's music, it is free from Loudness War shenanigans, and the instrumental clarity of the new versions is vastly improved. The only caveat is that, for some reason, the vinyl edition is being pressed on two records, meaning that the fourth side will run for twenty-nine and a half minutes; this was no doubt done to preserve the gapless song transition on that side, but with the downside of increasing the noise floor (pressing the album on three records would have prevented any side from having more than twenty minutes of music on it, thus keeping the noise floor lower).
  • Religion Rant Song: Insofar as it’s possible to make out the lyrics, “A Letter” appears to be a Take That! to right-wing Christianity. ...On the Subject of Mortality and some songs on the self-titled album also explore aspects of religion, but don’t really qualify as rants (except maybe “I, Hedonist”). Lunn hasn’t been particularly vocal about his own religious beliefs (if he even has them), but has spoken positively of some aspects of traditional Nordic paganism, noting that, while not perfect, it was often more progressive on issues like women’s rights than many of its contemporaries were; for example, divorce laws were fairly liberal, so while first marriages were often arranged, women were often allowed to divorce and marry suitors of their choosing later, whereas women in other cultures could end up stuck with partners who didn’t respect their rights and with no option to escape.
  • Rousing Speech: A particularly stirring example is sampled from Harlan County U.S.A. in "Black Soot and Red Blood".
  • Sampling: Occurs commonly in Panopticon tracks. Examples include "I, Hedonist", "The Death of Baldr and the Coming War", "Haunted America", and nearly all of ...On the Subject of Mortality and Kentucky (samples are frequently taken from The Seventh Seal and Harlan County U.S.A., respectively).
  • Self-Titled Album: The début.
  • Shoegaze: Several songs on ...On the Subject of Mortality are influenced by this genre, most notably "..Seeing..". The second Wheels Within Wheels split also bears a lot of influence from this genre, and it shows up in some other Panopticon songs too.
  • Shout-Out: "Emma's Song" is about and is named after the anarchist Emma Goldman. Much of the song concerns her views on patriarchy and marriage, and is in some respects Lunn's analysis of the evolution of marriage through the centuries (he particularly addresses Nordic marriage customs of marriage in a lengthy essay included with the original pressing of the album, which, as he notes, were significantly more progressive on women's rights than many other Western traditions of marriage).
  • Sinister Surveillance: The band is named after Jeremy Bentham's concept for a prison, which was later expanded by Michel Foucault to apply to the modern "disciplinary" society in that hierarchical structures such as the army, the factory, the hospital, and the school have all evolved to fit Bentham's concept of a panopticon. Needless to say, this is a fitting name for an anarchist band.
  • Sliding Scale of Libertarianism and Authoritarianism: Firmly at the libertarian (anarchist, to be more precise) end.
  • Slut-Shaming: Lunn denounces the double-standard inherent in this trope in the accompanying essay to “Emma’s Song”
  • Song Style Shift: In particular, "The Death of Baldr and the Coming War" has two - one from the Post-Rock intro into black metal, and then another about two-thirds of the way through into bluegrass. Other songs also employ these.
  • Soprano and Gravel: Lunn usually uses the Metal Scream expected of black metal vocalists, but he can also sing very well. However, the two vocal techniques were not used in the same song until the second Wheels Within Wheels split (this is also done in "In Silence" on Roads to the North as well as "Pale Ghosts" and "A Superior Lament" on Autumn Eternal).
  • Spoken Word in Music: Occurs frequently, usually overlapping with sampling. See above. "Merkstave" contains an example that is not a sample; it's a reading from Henry David Thoreau.
  • Stupid Statement Dance Mix: "I, Hedonist" has elements of this (though it's definitely not a dance song). A particularly amusing moment is near the end when one of the samples, probably cut up, says, "The Bible plainly states fornication and adultery are exciting."
  • Subdued Section: Since Panopticon is a very dynamic band, many of its songs have these.
  • Surprisingly Gentle Song: "...Speaking...(Collapsed Version)", "Idavoll", "To Make an Idol of Our Fear and Call It God", most of the songs on Wheels Within Wheels/Panopticon II, over half the songs on Kentucky, "The Long Road, Pt. I: One Last Fire...", "Norwegian Nights", "Tamarack's Gold Returns", "Trauerweide II", possibly others.
  • Take That!: Lunn has sampled right-wingers with whom he obviously doesn't agree in certain songs; his inclusion of the samples is generally intended to deconstruct their views. The most notable examples are "I, Hedonist" (though not every sample in the song is used for this purpose; there are also samples of LGBT people voicing support of marriage equality) and "The Death of Baldr and the Coming War".
  • Uncommon Time: The second half of "The Long Road, Pt. II: Capricious Miles" is in 7/4.
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