Friday, June 08, 2012

Panopticon: Kentucky (2012)

Come All You Poor Workers

Much of the best black metal reflects a sense of place. Whether it evokes the feel of the environment, or pulls in folk melodies of the culture, you should be able to tell something about where it comes from simply by hearing it. With Kentucky, Panopticon has put it right there in the title. But Kentucky isn't just in the title. It's in every note.

The record begins on a folk song, which isn't all that unusual these days. What is a bit more rare--at least outside Europe--is just how thoroughly the folk has taken over the album. Over half the tracks are pure folk, and the black metal cuts (over half the runtime) all have a folk infusion. Which is great, because Appalachian folk is a style that I've really come to love.

The blend of banjo, fiddle, and more is a perfect way to begin the record, setting the stage, unmistakably, in the American South. And then the scream comes in, setting the tone with the first of three sprawling black metal epics. The other prime points of note are the folk protest songs, "Come All Ye Coal Miners" and "Which Side Are You On?" They're dripping with just as much blood and fire as the black metal.

I've stated at least once before that black metal should reflect its surroundings, and I've mentioned many times my love of dark American folk music. This album falls perfectly in line with that. But it also proves the exception to two rules that I've stated repeatedly: That samples are bad, and lyrics don't matter.

The samples tell a story about the plight of coal miners in Kentucky, about how the establishment (including their union leaders) is against them, and about how the company doesn't care about the people or the land. The story-telling reminds me a great deal of Johnny Cash, to now the only lyricist to make me care what he's saying. The folk protest songs have that blue-collar ethic of Cash, even if they are a bit heavy-handed. I think the great Cash was even sampled himself at one point.

The Verdict: 5 out of 5 stars

Everything about this fits so perfectly well together, and blends so many of my tastes so expertly, that it has quickly become my favorite record of the year. It's like Cobalt got together with Johnny Cash and the guys from 16 Horsepower. There's even a chance I might look up the lyrics to the black metal parts, if I keep obssessively listening to this. Track by track, the record is not as strong as some other material from 2012. But as a whole, nothing comes close.

Handmade Birds

Pagan Flames

1 comment:

  1. Excellent review! Well done sir. I think this album is going to do some serious damage this year. Weird coincidence that you posted this the same day I posted my interview w/ Mr. Lunn.