Sometimes I tend to forget just how much I need certain artists to fulfill needs that they simply tend to best. Nobody does that certain mix of Americana Roots Rock, traditional Folk and well-placed Black Metal better than Austin Lunn, Panopticon, so thanks for giving us another gem to cling on to in the shape of The Rime of Memory!
There is just something in his music that makes Austin stand out among the myriad of one-man Black-Metal-projects that we have witnessed throughout the years. Musically, it’s not only the perfect blend of his ingredients each presented wonderfully as a whole but also in all each element’s singular simplicity and splendor. The acoustic parts are very clean, very warm and very nurturing and that becomes clear with the very first track already - ”I Erindringens Høstlige Dysterhet”, whose title could be translated as “In The Autumnal Dark of Memory” and please note that autumnal is here connotated as something warm and positive! The track is spreading light into dark and fearsome surroundings, which is clear from the start when you understand that it was a melody sung to lament the loss of the older generations of Scandinavian immigrants and their now also deceased offspring who died during the pandemic. It shall show the impact of the loss of these generations and their treasure chest of stories, emotions and descriptions associated with them moving to Minnesota (and generally the Central Northern US). Memory has always been a major part of Panopticon’s work, as it often deals with the ongoing cycle of the seasons as a metaphor for human life which also moves in a cycle from birth to death, from ashes to ashes, from pre-natal imagination of your parents to the post-mortem memories of those left behind. Even though it being a part of life, it nevertheless is a source for sadness and seclusion when someone you love died. The record, to me, has a similar feeling as Mono’s Hymn to the Immortal Wind or some tracks by Godspeed You! Black Emperor, because there is a lot of grandezza beneath a track like ”Enduring the Snow Drought” for example. It sounds like a lot of different, calming percussion elements were used in one of the layers underneath the whirlwinds of guitars and blastbeats. Here the intricacies of making these things aurally available without them dominating the whole track with all their high-pitched brilliance is really important, so we have to give a shout-out to the mixing and mastering mastermind Spencer Morris who did such an excellent job!
Spencer, however, is not the only one who contributed to the next opus magnum by Panopticon who seem to be unable to ever deliver something of less than excellent quality. There were many people who added some wonderful touches to the record, like the seven-headed North Woods (International) Choir whose melodies are a perfect match to the other vocals provided by Austin himself and the other four voices that are audible in screamed or clean style and one also reading a poem or the string arrangement and performances by Charlie Anderson and Patrick Urban. Lunn has by now a group of fellow musicians that he trusts and that he invites to partake in the process, even though he himself does most of the things you hear himself.
The record basically has two over-arching themes, that are intertwined in a certain way: Either the aforementioned loss that many of us cannot bear to witness ourselves or that scares us, as we all will finally meet our maker, face our bodily decomposition, feel our last fall before that finality that none of us know enough about to lessen our (hidden or open) angst. Because of the latter, many of cling too long to this planet, to this shell that we were given – and as they do so, they forget that this is also part of that cycle. They try to hold on to it for way too long, bending everyone and everything in their path for just one more day. By doing so, they forget that the mass of energy on this planet is a constant one which means that by prolonging their life, by prolonging their own usage of that energy there will be an inevitable lack thereof somewhere else, resulting in less energy for someone or something else. They basically personify the drought that this planet of ours is going through – metaphorically and also literally – we are the root of our environmental and social problems, the reason for the huge gap between the classes and countries, between “people” and “person”. So, does the record and Austin himself have an alternative, a suggestion on what to do? Yes, he has – and it might be simplest one possible: Enjoy life the way it is, do not fear, for we will all die, we all will breathe our last breath. Do not try to prolong your stay, do not try to milk this planet for everything possible just to have a few more hours. Come to terms with the inevitable and enjoy this moment, this life, this body, use your mind and be kind to your own soul as well as to those of others.
He dispenses these ideas in one of the most wonderful Atmospheric Black Metal records I have heard in quite some time. The six tracks are the warm blanket that we need, the comforting sound that we sometimes simply look for – even though I too tend to forget that I need Panopticon in my life. At the very moment when I am writing this, I need it more than before. I will continue to listen to this record for many months, and will remind not to lose track again. Thank you Austin, thank you Panopticon and thank you for reading.