Panopticon is a black metal band created by Austin Lunn. The project began as a studio-only effort with Lunn writing and performing all parts. While he remains the driving creative force, Panopticon has since expanded to include a lineup of musicians for live performances. The music features many familiar elements of black metal, but additionally incorporates bluegrass and Appalachian folk. In addition to sounds typical to heavy metal music, such as distorted guitars and rapid drumming, Panopticon also incorporates a diverse range of additional instrumentation, such as banjos, fiddles, bells, synthesizers and acoustic guitars.
Lunn is an avid outdoorsman, and some listeners have noted the influence of the natural world on Panopticon's music; for example, in a review of the album Autumn Eternal on Pitchfork.com, one music critic noted, "one can easily imagine a Henry David Thoreau-like figure retreating to the woods to contemplate personal, spiritual, and environmental concerns." Lunn's music has also been described as "natural, organic, and methodical, masterful in its writing, fiery and alive in its execution."
Concept and material
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Panopticon is named after utilitarian philosopher Jeremy Bentham's concept for a prison, which implies a surveillance state. Other philosophers such as Michel Foucault have argued that in today's modern "disciplinary" society, other hierarchical structures such as the army, the factory, the school, and the hospital have evolved to fit Bentham's concept for a panopticon. Lunn is himself an anarchist, and political themes underlie many of the band's releases.
To date, Panopticon has released eight full-length albums, one a double-CD (or four-LP) set, and eight split albums, plus a compilation containing remixed and remastered versions of Panopticon's third and fourth albums. All of Panopticon's albums apart from the first are concept albums. The albums often vary widely in style, in many cases influenced by the subject matter.
Panopticon's self-titled debut album was originally self-released in 2008 on Lunn's own Lundr Records (Lundr is the Nordic form of Lunn's name; his family is of Norwegian descent). All packaging in the initial release was self-created, and the songs were accompanied by lengthy essays Lunn had written describing their content. The initial release was limited to 200 copies. It was later reissued on Pagan Flames Records with different packaging; the essays were not included in this release. Physical releases of the album feature a cover of the crust punk band Amebix's song "ICBM"; the album also includes a song named for anarchist/feminist Emma Goldman.
In 2009, Lunn released Collapse and two splits, one with Los Angeles-based black metal band Lake of Blood and another with Louisville, Kentucky-based avant-garde metal act Wheels Within Wheels. The Lake of Blood split included a metal song about the execution of Sacco and Vanzetti and a moody acoustic piece with samples discussing the genocide of American Indians. The Wheels Within Wheels split included a bluegrass re-arrangement of a song from the first album and a song discussing the Haymarket massacre. Collapse is a concept album themed around what Lunn regards as the inevitable ecological collapse of modern civilization. The album includes a lengthy bluegrass interlude at the end of its first track, and it incorporates substantial post-rock influence throughout the album. The final song is entirely acoustic. The vinyl re-release features an Amebix cover, "The Beginning of the End", featuring Amebix's vocalist, Rob "The Baron" Miller.
...On the Subject of Mortality is Panopticon's third album, though its material was initially released on split CDs with the Cedar Rapids, Iowa-based band When Bitter Spring Sleeps and the Courtenay, British Columbia-based band Skagos. The album was later reissued as a two-LP set. The album is themed around death and religion, and it incorporates substantial samples from the Swedish film The Seventh Seal. In the liner notes, Lunn encourages listeners to watch the film. The album is an example of the blackgaze style, as it incorporates substantial influence from the shoegaze genre. Lunn attempted a do-it-yourself production here, to his eventual dissatisfaction; as a result, it was entirely remixed and remastered in 2016, alongside Social Disservices, for a collection entitled Revisions of the Past.
Around this time, Panopticon released a second split with Wheels Within Wheels. This is his first of several releases not to feature printed lyrics, as Lunn felt they were too personal; he suggested in the liner notes that listeners could believe the songs were about whatever they wished. This split also features a blackgaze style and incorporates a large amount of clean singing. Social Disservices, Panopticon's fourth album, is themed around Lunn's criticism of the foster system and social services more generally. The album has a bleak style informed by punk bands; at the same time, it features lengthy, complex compositions (the longest, "Patient", tops the twenty-minute mark), and it is his first of many releases to feature guest violinist John Becker (sometimes credited as Johan Becker), whose contributions have since become a distinct fixture of Panopticon's sound. According to the liner notes, "A portion of the profits from this record go to families in crisis and abuse victims."
Kentucky, Panopticon's fifth album, is sometimes regarded as its commercial breakthrough. More of the album than ever before consists of bluegrass music, though the three longer compositions are metal and the song "Black Waters" is closer to ambient music. The album discusses the labor struggles surrounding coal mining in Kentucky, with substantial samples from the documentary Harlan County, USA. Three songs on the album are covers of old labor standards. Lunn donates a substantial portion of his profits from the album to the charity Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, which stands in opposition to the environmentally destructive mining practice of mountaintop removal.
Panopticon's next split releases were with the Washington, D.C.-based band Vestiges and the Maine-based band Falls of Rauros (entitled Brotherhood; Lunn had contributed drums to Falls of Rauros' 2011 release The Light That Dwells in Rotten Wood, recorded when the band did not have a permanent drummer). The Vestiges split incorporated a cover of Suicide Nation, while Brotherhood was inspired by time Lunn had spent in Norway with Falls of Rauros and as a result is more strongly influenced by second-wave black metal than Panopticon's usual fare. Panopticon's sides of both split albums have not had their lyrics released.
Roads to the North and Autumn Eternal, Panopticon's sixth and seventh albums, are considered the second and third parts of a trilogy with Kentucky, though their lyrics have not been released. Roads to the North coincided with Lunn's move from Louisville, Kentucky to rural Minnesota, and reviewers have noted a substantial melodic death metal influence on the album. It also incorporates a lengthy three-part suite inspired by progressive rock. Two of the album's eight songs ("Norwegian Nights" and the first part of "The Long Road") are entirely acoustic bluegrass compositions. Autumn Eternal incorporates somewhat shorter songs than the band's usual fare, but otherwise continues in a familiar fashion.
The Scars of Man on the Once Nameless Wilderness is a two-hour double album with two distinct parts. The first part features metal inspired by Nordic bands like Bathory and Windir (the third song is directed to Windir's Valfar). The second part features mostly acoustic music; though occasional passages with electric guitar appear, the album is mostly bluegrass, folk, and country music with occasional influence from post-rock. While printed lyrics still don't appear in the packaging, there are explanations for the concept behind the album and every song. The album is Lunn's lament for the decline of wilderness and the difficulty of obtaining silence, inspired by the writings of environmentalist Sigurd Olson. Lunn donates some of the proceeds from the album to the Listening Point Foundation, a group dedicated to preserving Olson's legacy.
- Panopticon (2008)
- Collapse (2009)
- On the Subject of Mortality (2010)
- Social Disservices (2011)
- Kentucky (2012)
- Roads to the North (2014)
- Autumn Eternal (2015)
- The Scars of Man on the Once Nameless Wilderness (2018)
- The Crescendo of Dusk (EP, 2019)
- It's Later Than You Think (Wheels Within Wheels, 2009)
- Lake of Blood/Panopticon (Lake of Blood, 2009)
- Panopticon/When Bitter Spring Sleeps (When Bitter Spring Sleeps, 2010)
- Skagos/Panopticon (Skagos, 2010)
- Wheels Within Wheels/Panopticon II (Wheels Within Wheels, 2011)
- Vestiges/Panopticon (Vestiges, 2013)
- Brotherhood (Falls of Rauros, 2014)
- Panopticon/Waldgeflüster (Waldgeflüster, 2016)
- Revisions of the Past (2016)
- "Exclusive Interview: Austin Lunn of Panopticon". decibelmagazine.com. Retrieved 31 March 2017.
- "PANOPTICON to Perform Live at Migration Fest". Metal Injection. 10 February 2016. Retrieved 31 March 2017.
- "Panopticon - Autumn Eternal - Reviews". Encyclopaedia Metallum: The Metal Archives. Retrieved 31 March 2017.
- "Panopticon: Autumn Eternal Album Review". pitchfork.com. Retrieved 31 March 2017.
- "Natures With No Plagues: Interview:Panopticon". natureswithnoplagues.blogspot.com. 22 December 2011. Retrieved 31 March 2017.
- "Panopticon – Autumn Eternal". Heavy Blog Is Heavy. Retrieved 31 March 2017.