I’ll be completely honest: atmospheric black metal is one of the few styles within the genre I’m still willing to actively expose myself to. I’m glad that there’s an entire section of the EIN team that’s still all about the metal – it takes this particular weight off my feeble ambient-loving shoulders. That being said, Panopticon are a band I should’ve looked into a lot more, because listening to snippets of today’s album of honor, Autumn Eternal, showed me a glimpse of a sound I might yet enjoy whole-heartedly.

Since Autumn Eternal‘s seventh anniversary was just a few days ago at the time of writing this, let’s all look back at it fondly, just like staff writers Jake, JP, Dan, and Dylan are about to do!

Dylan Nicole Lawson

Panopticon quickly turned into a favorite upon discovering Austin Lunn’s music sometime in 2014. Even by that point, Panopticon would have about 6 albums under his belt, all of which pushed the boundaries little by little on what one considers to be ‘metal music’. I could talk for hours about everything that’s made me fall in love with what Austin does, not just as a musician but also very much a human being in general. But today we’ll speak on what I believe is my favorite of his works so far, Autumn Eternal.

Point blank and simple: I am obsessed with the opening track. I’ll often put it on just for something to mellow out and calm my nerves while driving, sitting somewhere out in nature (did I mention I’m quite the outdoors person?), or even just doing chores around the house. “Tamarack’s Gold Returns” is quite literally one of the greatest and most beautiful songs ever crafted, in my maybe not-so-humble opinion. The fact that it opens what winds up being a monumental work of art in the form of audio is the sweetest appetizer to a full course meal of 5-star quality in terms of black metal crossed over with elements of folk, bluegrass, and maybe even bits of death metal as well.

I remember at the beginning of this year, I was on tour with one of my bands, driving down from North Carolina to one of the southern-most portions of South Carolina. Not the longest drive in the world, nor the most tumultuous, mind you, but it’s definitely one you want a good soundtrack for. I remember as we were making way into South Carolina, the weather was nice, it was quiet, and there were hills and trees, all sorts of pleasant sights all around. The trip was basically blessed at this point.

Then, “Tamarack’s Gold Returns” began playing on the playlist. I’d heard the song and album many times before, but after having it applied, in real-time, to an experience as tranquil and personal to me as that, the song will forever remain in a near-and-dear place in my heart. The idea of ever hearing it live is even haunting to me, in the best sense possible, after that. Once again, remember, this is just the opening track, too!

Austin just has a real talent for culminating cinematic soundscapes, emotional atmospheric energies, visceral lyricism falling well in line with preservation of the natural world and its importance, and the aggressive riffing that pumps your average listener with all the adrenaline they need to get through the day all in the same place. Take for instance “Oaks Ablaze”, “Sleep to the Sound of Waves Crashing”, and “Pale Ghosts”, which all coincidentally run one after the other. “Oaks Ablaze” and especially “Sleep to the Sound of Waves Crashing” have elements that almost feel like a cinematic ASMR with super sick tremolo guitar work and pounding, dark but simultaneously triumphant, blast-beat drum work that, even as exciting as it sounds, could still probably bring the mental peace you need to sleep better at night. But we should never sleep on Panopticon, of course.

“Pale Ghosts” absolutely just does it to you, as well. Even in the beginning with this melancholic, almost orchestral-sounding intro that rips right into a medieval-like barrage of guitars, reverb, and blast beats, you feel like you’re at the happiest funeral imaginable, if ever there would be one. The way Austin mixes this dark, morbid, gritty essence of noises with a sound that feels heart-melting and sounds like it belongs in the most emotional turning point of a cinematic plot is a highlight that keeps me coming back. I think it honestly keeps anyone coming back, too.

Artists that can not only exhibit a wide range of talent, and make 6-8 minute songs interesting from start to finish, but also literally make you feel the music in your soul; that’s that shit I live for. That’s why Austin always wins. That’s why Autumn Eternal will always have a special place in my heart. I much appreciate Austin for gracing the world with this unique brand of yee-haw black metal.

Jean Pierre Pallais

The United States gets a lot of flak simply for being the United States, and with all the headlines you see about this country (over the past couple years especially), I cannot dispute the fact that this country is all shades of messed up. You could go as far to say that there is very little genuine culture to have come out of the USA, and you’d be mostly right even. When it comes to music that shows what the USA is all about, the first things that always come to mind are the likes of Kid RockFive Finger Death Punch, and stadium country about beer and lifted trucks for example. Not setting a good example am I… That’s the point.

Again, while I do mostly agree that this is a cultural wasteland when it comes to the essence of ‘real American life’, I am slightly apprehensive to do so, as it discredits the real culture that does exist out there, even if it is in the shadows. Not only that but this country is a massive cultural melting pot that it is so difficult to pinpoint a single, central culture. Hell, the US doesn’t even have an official language at the federal level. Regardless, there are many glints of beauty hidden throughout the country in the farthest reaches, and the very same applies to the musical landscape as well. You just need to know where to look, especially when it comes to ‘true American’ music, whatever that is to you.

The first artist that comes to mind for me is Panopticon, as you might’ve guessed considering the focus of this article. I’ll have it be known that I’ve always had some resentment for what is considered rural, country music in today’s day and age. Anything bearing any resemblance whatsoever to that style of music had me wanting to perform a self-inflicted lobotomy on the spot. Luckily for me it never happened, although considering the operating capacity (or lack thereof) of my brain from time to time, it may as well have happened on three separate occasions. It wasn’t until I stumbled upon Panopticon‘s Autumn Eternal that everything slowly started to change for me in that regard; well, somewhat, as modern-day country is still torture material.

Brief tangent here, but I felt the timing of this article was perfect for me as at the time of writing this, I had just returned from a long weekend trip to the Seattle-area in Washington. I spent most of my time there with my wife driving around in the never-ending wilderness that surrounded us rather than being in the asphyxiating big city. We drove through seemingly endless national forests filled with trees taller than you could imagine, and it was truly a humbling experience. I love being made to feel so small and insignificant, and our ventures through the wild did exactly that. Most of the time while driving or out hiking, I kept thinking to myself about how I wanted to listen to Panopticon while cruising with the windows down as that was the perfect soundtrack for the time, especially with the autumnal colors and weather at its peak. Unfortunately for me, Panopticon doesn’t necessarily fall under the umbrella of ‘enjoyable music’ for my wife, so that didn’t happen, but I will say that I did at least get her to put “Tamarack’s Gold Returns” into the queue as I drove, and that put the fattest smile on my face. As GenZ as it is to say, that truly was a vibe.

Photo credit: Jean Pierre Pallais Yllescas

Going back to the very first time I had heard “Tamarack’s Gold Returns”, the appeal of that style of music started to make sense to me. The moment that track opens up with the howling of a wolf and the tender banjo and violin melodies juxtaposed one another, I instantly realized that I had a massive misrepresentation of this style of music all along. It appeared that I truly didn’t hate ‘country’ or rural American folk as much as I thought I did, as it was the modern interpretation that I was so put off by initially. I was truly enamored with this ‘vintage’ style of rural music (properly referred to as americana/folk), and felt dumb that I wrote this gorgeous sound off due to what is watered down and played for the masses. You could say that it is cringe that only a metal band could awaken this within me, and that wouldn’t be unreasonable, but better that than not at all. Since then, I’ve been tirelessly searching for more music along these lines; proper American folk sans metal. Music like this is real country to me.

For the sake of digital real estate, I’ll just say that the rest of the album masterfully captures the essence of being out in the wilderness with the sheer beauty captured by the weeping violin sections and soaring tremolo leads and the unforgiving ferocity as portrayed by the ferocious screams and blast beats. This formula is one that Panopticon would go ahead to refine even further with successive releases, especially on his latest …And Again Into the Light. Much like discovering good music, you have to expend effort to push against the concentration gradient to find the hidden gems out there that truly define what rural American culture is all about. When it comes to what American metal is all about, there is no other that does it quite like Panopticon.

Jake Walters

I have never really had a place to officially call home. From birth until I was in my early twenties, there was no place that I could officially say was indelibly mine. My parents had roots in the Western part of Virginia, so when we could, we’d often come back to visit and drink in the Blue Ridge Mountains, the crisp Autumn breezes, the chilly and snowy holidays, but most importantly, the music. This region is rife with bluegrass and old-time mountain music. Banjos, mandolins, fiddles, and guitars are all a part of my greatest memories of this area, a place that I now call home. As I grew older, my tastes widened and heavier music became more and more where I gravitated. I never really imagined them crossing streams. That is until one day I stumbled across Panopticon’s Kentucky. I was hearing banjos and songs about coal mines and trem picked guitars and harsh vocals and fiddles… all on the same record? This was unbelievable. My nostalgia was now linking to my current passions in ways that I could not imagine, and not only was it actually working, but it was also incredible, socially conscious music that I could hang my hat on.

As we now know, Autumn Eternal is the closing chapter of a trilogy that began with Kentucky and Roads to the North being the center bookended by the aforementioned albums. This is a stellar trio of records but for my money, the closer finds Panopticon’s Austin Lunn finding the perfect balance of his vision and executing it to a near-perfect level. I’m sure my writing companion Dylan has already covered just how great “Tamarack’s Gold Returns”, so I’ll not wax overly eloquent on that song. My only comment on this opener is that it pulls hard on my nostalgia. It pulls me back to the Virginia woods of my childhood where I’d play with sticks and run up and down those hills covered with the leaves of countless Autumns crunching under my feet until it was too dark to make it home without getting more than a few scratches across my face. This song has the ability to conjure powerful emotions within me, and for that reason and others, this is one of the best album openers of all time for me. Also, having “Into The Woods” follow this song with its bawdy and triumphant intro is a thing of beauty.

One of the things that became noticeable to me about Autumn Eternal was that Austin Lunn has arrived at a point with Panopticon where he was no longer balancing the folk/bluegrass with the metal. No longer were these two ideas presented as a contrast to one another, but rather the two were existing as a single, new organism. My personal favorite from Autumn Eternal, “Oaks Ablaze”, is a great example of how he was accomplishing being an absolute monster on every instrument and writing impressively dynamic and pensive songs. It’s an absolute barn burner. After minutes of pummeling-yet-cathartic energy, the track slowly morphs into a thoughtful, gazey gallop that imbues each moment with something to grasp.

After such an onslaught the perfect thing to do is give your listener a reprieve of sorts, and “Sleep to the Sound of the Waves Crashing” is the album’s opus that accomplishes that and more. The atmosphere created by the strings and the bells (along with samples of waves actually crashing) is palpable and serene and throughout the nearly nine minutes of this song, intensity is sprinkled in acting as slingshots that keep the song’s momentum pushing ever forward. When it comes to piecing together a record this is the kind of thing that is important and Lunn knows that and knows it well. He creates an emotive center with these songs and then does everything he can to foster and protect it.

The throughline to Autumn Eternal is its passion. While the musical styles ebb and flow and the variety of instruments employed is vast, each part of this record is serving the feeling. That feeling is tangible throughout the hour that passes while listening to this record. Its powerful, cathartic, contemplative, and rife with energy. One of the things that I take from this album – and Panopticon in general – is that while I love the music and there are great moments and memorable melodies and riffs throughout each song, what I remember the most is how I feel when listening. I feel nostalgic. I feel energized. I feel at peace. I feel restless. These are things that are harder to write down or point to with a timestamp. That to me is what sets a great musician and album apart from the rest. The ability to kindle a feeling in me rather than just be impressed with a lyric or fancy transition.

Autumn Eternal is and will probably always be my favorite Panopticon album. This is a powerful album that has heart. Real heart. I will be ever thankful that it exists and that regardless of where I am, it will take me home.

Daniel Reiser

We took a family vacation to the Texas Hill Country during the peak of Covid. We stayed in a cabin on a secluded piece of land, with no one within miles of us. We spent that afternoon mulling around and taking in the peace and quiet, reveling in the privacy of not having to be around anyone, and enjoyed each other’s uninterrupted company. As the afternoon shifted to early evening, we cooked fireside as the night rolled in. The darkness encroached upon the light, and we heard faint and ghastly yips in the distance. It wasn’t a sound we were familiar with whatsoever, and every minute or so the yips seemed to get closer and louder. When the night was in full dominance, the yips were extremely prevalent, yet when we looked out at the treeline we couldn’t see anything. It prompted us to move ourselves inside, and to settle in bed early. It only turned out to be foxes, and not some mysterious monstrosity, but that feeling we had when we didn’t know, facing the extreme wilderness in front of us, in all of its beauty and alluring unknown is what Panopticon’s Autumn Eternal captures perfectly.

The American South is rooted in stereotypes and misconceptions. What usually dominates the public perception is a land of ignorance and societal decay that doesn’t constitute much respect. For centuries, American Southern artists toyed with this notion, which led to the offshoot subgenre known as ‘Southern gothic‘.  Southern Gothic usually roots itself in displaying the sparse serenity of the southern landscape, and juxtaposes that against harsh and populated areas giving allure to the unknown. Isolation is a key in understanding the south that a lot of folks tend to overlook. Busy with their bustling lives filled with constant distraction, the South has always moved at a slower, much more creeping pace. In that isolation and oppressive despair, there is beauty. It’s a wonder that is multi-faceted and complex, yet doesn’t stray away from the darker elements either. It’s a hard concept to understand, let alone grasp, to develop art from.

Austin Lunn makes it look easy. Autumn Eternal is a sweeping masterpiece that engages the imagination with a soundscape that is so integral to how living in the South can feel. Immediately, when the first second of the sincere and heartwarming tone of “Tamarack’s Gold Returns” plays, you’re engulfed in a sense of connective tissue one can make with the wilderness around them. When that delicate transition from the initial track to the blistering, yet beautiful “Into The North Woods” completes, you can feel the immediacy of adventure, excitement, wonderment, fear, concern, and desire to survive flood the airwaves. Later, “Oaks Ablaze” delivers a percussive ritualistic display that hugs the listener, and “Sleep to the Sound Of The Waves” delivers an unnerving sense of dread, yet never stops being beautiful. By the time you get to “The Winds Farewell”, Lunn has exposed the listener to various themes and elements that are hard to describe and always better to just experience and feel.

I’ve never really experienced another piece of music that emulates what the American south can feel like, but Panopticon pulled it off perfectly. There are no words that can define this album in certain terms of the experience that is listening to it. Autumn Eternal draws its inspiration from the behemoth of the wilderness that surrounds its creator, and set a precedent for NABM that every band should strive towards. It’s an amazingly gorgeous piece of art that is coveted, as it should be, and heralded as an anthem for those who live in a gorgeous, dangerous, alluring, harsh and complex landscape. It’s a masterpiece of an album that’s nothing short of perfect.

Dominik Böhmer

Dominik Böhmer

Pretentious? Moi?

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