Blackgrass, a recommendation under duress - IN SEARCH OF SPACE #105

“So why don’t you write about metal anymore?” came the dumbly phrased question. I didn’t feel like taking all day explaining the multitude of ingredients in the root beer float of why I don’t talk about heavy metal, or the fact it was topped off with a hefty scoop of Ben and Jerries’ new Carrot Be Arsed; my answer was to the point: “for the same reason I wouldn’t spend a thousand words a week describing the colour of a banana”, metal is in the main dull, tedious pandering to misogynistic juvenile fantasies of indecisive twelve year olds (or those for whom repeated mosh-pit head stompings and heavy meth use have rendered them on an equal intellectual plane with aforementioned indecisive twelve year olds) who buy Cannibal Corpse albums with the foolish notion that shocking one’s parents is an worthy reason to listen to terribly derivative, over(or under)produced music chiefly vocally concerned with death and veins and blood and abortions and other such unmentionables. Now, I’m all for pissing off your parents, I’m taking my motorbike test next week in an continued effort to piss off mine, and I only got into heavy music the same way indecisive twelve year old et cetera gets into it. But I fell out of it again because nobody I knew of in metal was making the records I want to hear anymore – ‘boo, you doddering clapped-out over-the-hill old scrotum face, your mind is too clogged with tumorous growths and your joints seized with arthritis to keep up with heavy metal’ yell the indecisive twelve year olds, and y’know what? You’re almost certainly right. But every once in a while an album comes along that doesn’t pander right to adolescent twelve year old twats’ Arnie-scented ideas of masculinity and actually does something interesting. This decade’s contender is the new Panopticon album, Kentucky. It won’t come as much of a surprise, seeing as everyone who cares already knows this album is good, but I’m going to say it anyway, it is even of utmost spiritual usefulness to those for whom black metal isn’t an interest.

Now it might not surprise you if you’ve got your finger on the metal pulse, because every magazine and fanzine went kinda crazy and started making big waves in the retards paddling pool that is amateur metal journalism for the new Panopticon album. Panopticon are an American black metal band, not as hardcore as the Swedish stuff, not as shitly overhyped and totally fake as the Norwegian stuff and not as intelligently divergent as stuff like Liturgy and Wolves in the Throne Room, they never had much balls for doing something that was interesting. People condemn Wolves in the Throne Room especially and Liturgy to a lesser extent for being ‘hipster black metal’ mostly because those two bands do not conform to the ‘style’ of black metal; to me, saying style of black metal is like saying block of butter; it should be about the butter, not the block, y’ follow me? You won’t find as much retardation and corpse painted morons and losers burning churches for no better reason than trying too hard. Panopticon are part of that American underground of reliable black metal artists (the zenith is still Cobalt) and their new album elevates them over and above that. If nothing else, it’ll go down as 2012’s album that proves it’s never too late to stop being dreary copycat music. I know that won’t make it onto the CD case but hey.

Panopticon, Kentucky communion.
So what is it actually like then? Well, A. Lundr (yeah, we aren’t away from dumb black metal names but baby steps) describes himself as “not a grim dude, I’m a father, a husband, a brewer, a nice guy” and he’s also an intelligent American gentleman if this album is to be read correctly. He understands about exploitation, land use, the American nightmare in full flow. His music is intelligent and well put together and metallic in a viscerally pleasing way. The inclusion of non-metallic elements that has all the black metal press buzzing like amorous retarded unspellchecked wasps, the use of traditional Kentucky folk songs interspersed and indeed built into the black metal leading the album to be dubbed ‘blackgrass’. The traditional Kentucky folk songs, and samples taken from miners discussing their trade, and the donation of profits to Kentuckyians for the Commonweath to help combat mountaintop removal places this in the realm of ‘political music’; but just the same as the folk song covers are woven effectively into the metal, so are the politics woven throughout the record. The usual black metal elements are here, the churning guitars, the low-res production leading to the sound really blending into an unrecognisable blob in the lower half of the production, but that’s par for the course.

It’s atmosphere that’s the star here. Black metal is, centrally, a country music, a rural music, a folk music, and this album was conceived and built and tested in the politics of the Kentucky Appalachians. In an almost imagined coal miners bar where the music, blackened and dark as it was, was matched neatly by the workers faces and lungs. The exploitation of young men turned old before their time and the raping of the land by corporate greed bleeds in the black sludge in the floorboards of those high Appalachian drinking houses. For years those public houses have sung with the talk of working men and bluegrass, and now that emotion is amplified with the music to a revolutionary fervour and a thunderous statement of intent. A few people have claimed that Panopticon has been raised to the level of Black metal royalty, and the phrase ‘best of the American black metal underground’ has been thrown around. I’m not actually convinced with the black metal sequences in this album as pieces of black metal; but the album as a whole is filled with a down-home working class fury only born of true and honest exploited men and damaged land from the still fairly wild west.

Buy the album in black vinyl (green sold out) with all it's gatefold loveliness from the cool folks at Handmade Birds records.
Written under duress by Steven.

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