The last eighteen months have been a long and arduous period for all of us. The experience of Minnesota homesteaded and black metal musician Austin Lunn aka Panopticon was clearly no exception to this brutal horizontalization of human experience over the past year and a half. For proof of this, we can look to his latest album, ...And Again Into The Light. It is dedicated to his family, for their warmth and patience with him over the last several months, with a portion of the proceeds reportedly going to those suffering from mental illness. I think this is an admission that characterizes much of this new album, an experience that conveys a sense of vulnerability and an open reconciliation with one’s faults not often seen in metal, let alone black metal.
...And Again Into The Light see a return to his Austin’s championed synthesis of black metal and American folk- aspects of his sound that were curiously separated on his previous effort, the massive double album The Scars of Man on the Once Nameless Wilderness. His sound is fully integrated again on his most recent album though, and for the better, I would say. These two defining chains of his aesthetic link together in an economical way, allowing for natural pockets to form in each, which the other can then naturally backfill. It’s a partnership in constant negotiation with itself, sure, but one in which you can hardly argue with the results.
“The Embers At Dawn,” “Her Golden Laughter Echoes” and the opening title song, are the most embellished folk tracks on the album- constructed as a kind of winsome, electric bluegrass. The constituent assemblage of foothill edifices that form the through-line these quieter moments dovetails beautifully with the more desegregated and dyspeptic tracks, like the cold-burning forest fire of “Dead Loons,” and magnificent, iron-knuckled, Darkthrone ‘n roll of the closer “Know Hope.” Taken on the whole, the ...And Again Into The Light has a narrative character to it, one that uses the alternating passages of Austin’s sound to guide you through an elaboration on the themes he wishes to explore, illuminating the tug of war that rages at the heart of lingering trauma or a crisis of the ego.
The final track “Know Hope” is the most explicit chronicle of the story that Austin wishes to tell, for reason of its title, but also because of the way that its muscular grooves and gnashing chords find themselves downshifting into tremolo passages of ambient pain, only to pass through a strait of buoyant string arrangments, to come out the other side collected and tranquil. It’s a pattern that repeats itself in multiple places throughout the album, but which finds its zenith in this closing chapter. This rhythm of suffering rolling over into understanding and reflection, and from there an open calm, is a lot like the cycles and relapses and reconstitution that occur when someone finds themselves in a state of mental distress. Finding their way out is a slow process of easing themselves out of the pit they have dug, a process that is sometimes only possible with the guiding presence of a loved one acting as a lifeline, leading them to the summit. There are faulters, and backslides, of course, and even once that person has climbed out of one hole, they’re likely to fall into another, or the same, just as quickly. But with every cycle, it becomes that much easier to find their way back the next time they fall. Provided that they can find the strength inside themselves to embrace the love and hope that has been offered them, and upon receiving this gift, muster the resolve to return it. There is no telling how many times someone will have to find their way back to the light, but there will always be a trail to follow back if they wish to return to it.
Image courtesy of Panopticon.