Many things can be said about Panopticon, but not that they’re lazy. The band put out three full-lengths in a four-year period, and this year they started playing live shows for the first time in their existence. Little surprise, then, that sole studio member Austin Lunn has shifted a gear back in his release schedule. For his latest release with Panopticon, he has summoned the help of Germany’s Waldgeflüster. Each band contributed two songs towards a new split album, which was released by Nordvis in March. Though the compatibility of the bands promises a successful collaboration, the split between Panopticon and Waldgeflüster is something only die-hard fans will want to bother with.
The thirty-four minutes which constitute the split’s total running time are not as rich in content as one might expect. Waldgeflüster and Panopticon only offer one new, lengthy metal song respectively, with the remaining two track slots occupied by the bands covering one of each other’s ballad-style songs.
While the offering is thus already meager, the new tracks do little to redeem this split. Waldgeflüster’s ‘Der Traumschänder’ delivers nearly thirteen minutes of nature-inspired black metal that is fuzzy and flowery, not shying away from a few orchestral frills along the way. Though it may not be post-black metal in the strictest sense, Waldgeflüster’s approach to the genre strays far from the path of purism, hence it is easy to see wherein lies their alliance with Panopticon. However, where Panopticon’s contribution is characterised by energetic, clearly audible instrumentation, ‘Der Traumschänder’ has a far more turbid sound, with the song’s details remaining hidden beneath a layer of noise. Further problems are added by the composition, whose clumsy transitions and unremarkable riffs are far from enough to justify the song’s length.
It is then up to Panopticon to save this release from mediocrity, but while Lunn’s performance is as spectacular as ever on a technical level, his thirteen-minute ‘Håkan’s Song’ also fails to captivate the listener throughout. In Panopticon’s case, the problem is that Lunn wants to do so much at the same time that all potentially good ideas just end up cancelling each other out. Rock and black metal riffs that have been combined into the same melody end up sounding clunky rather than creative, whereas the song’s quieter parts are unable to build or relieve tension. These ‘conflicts of influence’ have already prevented Panopticon from weaving a consistent narrative on albums such as last year’s Autumn Eternal, and here they even cause fractures within the same song.
A possible explanation for the overbearing nature of Panopticon’s contribution to this split (and a sizeable chunk of their discography) is that Lunn is presumably a drummer at heart, and good drummers rarely feel comfortable clinging to one idea for too long. Indeed, Lunn’s percussion is rich with tempo changes, fills, and energetic bursts. This versatile yearning has spilled over into the composition process to such a degree that ‘Håkan’s Song’ periodically comes across as neurotic. In this sense, Panopticon is comparable to another drum-savvy one-man black metal band: Sühnopfer, led by Frenchman Ardraos (Florian Denis). Like Lunn, he has a tendency to cram as much variation and ‘hold-my-beer-while-I-do-this’ virtuosity into his compositions, with the only difference being that Ardraos gets away with it most of the time, given that he is far better at writing riffs and structuring songs than is Lunn. After all, an overload of amazing ideas is far more tolerable than a barrage of okay ideas; where Sühnopfer occasionally induces sensory overload, Panopticon more often tingles the dozy side of the senses.
This split between Panopticon and Waldgeflüster is advertised by Nordvis as a release in which both bands, ‘transcend[sic] into a single musical entity.’ This is true insofar as both bands have a comparable approach to black metal and inadvertently suffer from the same shortcomings. As a result of their shared weaknesses, their similarity does not culminate into a singular, flowing listening experience. Their metal songs are too messy, their ballads are too tame, and more than anything, the listener is left wondering when the real fireworks are going to start, only to find out that the fuse was buried beneath the soggy compositions all along. Sadly, this is yet another split release that relies more on the allure of the names on the cover than any riveting content contained therein. I repeat: die-hard fans only.
01) Waldgeflüster – Der Traumschänder
02) Waldgeflüster – Norwegian Nights (Panopticon cover)
03) Panopticon – Håkan’s Song
04) Panopticon – Trauerweide II (Waldgeflüster cover)