Album Review: PANOPTICON The Scars of Man on the Once Nameless Wilderness (Pt. I & II)
The Scars of Man on the Once Nameless Wilderness (I&II) is extraordinary. Most of the time we think of music having the ability to teleport our state of mind to a new place; but in the case of Scars, this is a record that has the ability to amplify the environment around it. Panopticon mastermind Austin Lunn had this to share when he released the albums earlier last week:
[…] Please don't listen to the album on your laptop speakers, it will sound like shit. Give it a shot on a long hike or by a fire with headphones. […]
While Scars can be appreciated in numerous ways, this is perhaps the ultimate means to listen to the albums. For those who have been with Panopticon well before Scars, you’re already aware of Lunn’s love for nature. Scars is not only a brilliant, and well crafted record that captures that love, but honors the beauty of nature. The opening song presents a majestic and gentle progression of instrumentation, whistling over the sounds of crackling fire. From beginning to end, Scars presents a spiritual-like immersion in each song. Even when the music blasts away in such heavy metal fashion, there is no denying the pure meditative bliss the work exudes.
Scars is also Lunn’s most captivating effort, displaying an astounding range in instrumentation and compositions. While in the past Lunn has blended genres together, Scars not only offers those blends but also a new side to his work. The first half of Scars is the sort of masterful atmospheric black metal we’ve come to know of Lunn. Blistering drum work and somber guitar melodies create an air of melancholy.
“En hvit ravns død” offers a barrage of drums alongside a cold guitar rhythm. Lunn’s vocals come over the mix to present a ghostly tinge to the work, with bits of melody stringing through the instrumentation. Towards the halfway point, the heavier instrumentals leave, the song introducing a string progression that sounds chilling. Nearing the end of the track, all these elements come together, forming this epic and passionate combination.
Other than the few cases where Lunn features some guest vocalists, a violinist, or other instrumentalists; Lunn is responsible for all the instrumentation on the records. To give you an idea of everything Lunn does, here’s a list detailing all of his roles:
Guitars (acoustic, electric, baritone acoustic, resonator, square neck resonator) Bass (acoustic, 4 and 8 string electric) 5 string banjo, lap steel, drums and percussion, keys, mandolin, harmonica, sung and screamed voice, choirs, accordion and orchestra bells and software instruments.
“Blåtimen” blazes forward like a majestic fire. The shredding guitar rhythm captures beautiful brushes of melody while Lunn's drums gift an icy tinge to the music. When it comes to the atmospheric metal material of Scars, there is a profound balance of outright ferocity and blissful serenity. Even when the song includes an epic solo into the mix, there is something so gentle to it. It’s music that fills you up with overwhelming emotion. Lunn does an incredible job in balancing his use of emotion and structure throughout the albums. There is never a single moment where compositions become stale, monotonous, or repetitive.
“The Singing Wilderness” takes a slower approach to its pacing. That being said, all of Lunn’s work has the same outcome, regardless of pacing, tempo, composition or style. While instrumentation may not be at lightning speeds, in no way is the track restrained. The drumming sporadically flourishes about the progression, the bright guitar twang roaming in mesmerizing fashion. Towards the end of the track, there is a slight shift in tone; the music takes on a chilling shade. The guitar pitch emits a distant and darker sound.
During the first half of Scars, Lunn shares wonderful use of string instruments and other folk instrumentation. Yet, it’s the second half of Scars where Lunn's employment of these instruments shows a whole new light. It’s here that Panopticon shares with fans his love for folk/Americana music. For all those looking for metal, Lunn has made it clear that the second portion of Scars will be devoid of such work. “The Moss Beneath the Snow” embodies a melancholy sound and progression, containing the power to calm the soul. Minus some slight inflections in pitch—with the intensity picking up some distortion towards the end—this is a pure trance-inducing journey. It’s a beautiful composition that isn’t hectic, fast, or tossing a lot at you but offers the opportunity to stand still or sit down, and reflect.
“The Wandering Ghost” immediately plays to a playful combination of strings, with Lunn presenting a hoarse, folk-like singing voice. The instrumentals keep the flow upbeat, while Lunn’s voice offers some grit. “Beast Rider” expands upon this style, with Lunn’s voice lightening up, and the instrumentals taking on a somber tone. This side of Lunn’s work is minimalist, honoring his talent in presenting atmospheric music. It’s outstanding to see an artist take such an idea as “atmospheric”, and be able to present it in multiple forms that present similar emotions.
The Scars of Man on the Once Nameless Wilderness, in both its parts, are some of the best records to have been released in recent years. There are very few artists like Austin Lunn in the world, capable of crafting such heartfelt works of art. What makes the work of Lunn’s Panopticon so remarkable is how he continuously creates music that captivates our senses; it’s one thing if art can transport you to other places, but it’s a whole other thing if art can enhance one’s life. The art of Panopticon has always had a reflective power to it; this magical component that allows one to take a breather and be mindful of life. These elements are at play in The Scars of Man on the Once Nameless Wilderness, and at their best. Lunn has not simply created great records, but masterpieces.