Vestiges / Panopticon split: two portrayals of epic black metal grandness

Vestiges / Panopticon, self-titled, The Flenser, LP (2013)

The phenomenon of split recordings where two or more acts in the same or similar genres release an album together – often in the form of vinyl LPs with one band on the A-side and the other band on the B-side – is common in underground metal circles, especially black metal, and the USBM act Panopticon has done his fair share of such recordings with other bands. Here he (or rather A Lunn, the sole member) teams up with Vestiges, a black metal / post-rock fusion act hailing from Washington DC. After the attention he gained with the release of “Kentucky”, one might think Panopticon doesn’t need to be paired up with other, maybe lesser acts to promote his music but there’s also something to be said for encouraging other acts to come forward with their work by joining it to his and sharing the expenses of production and recording.

Vestiges lead off with two tracks titled “VII” and “VIII” which are intended as two episodes in an ongoing narrative that started with their first album “The Descent of Man” and continued with a split recording with Indonesian sludge metal band Ghaust. “VII” begins slowly and majestically with quiet but insistent guitar twang riff loops, deep bass drone and soft ambient background wash. Gradually adding percussion that itself speeds up as the track goes along, plus ghost voices and a raspy vocal, the track constantly piles up volume, energy and emotion. The music quickly goes into “VIII” which breaks into a mix of rapid-fire tremolo black metal guitar with sometimes choppy drumming and of clean-toned melodic post-rock guitar flow that may take in influences from blues and sludge doom metal. The mood on this second track is sorrowful and tragic as it alternates between the two musical extremes of black metal and doom, both with a post-rock sheen. As “VIII” continues, the music becomes ever more intense, working in dark space and the volume dynamics within to create a mighty edifice of tremolo guitar scaffolding, a thumping bass / percussion foundation and towers of tone and drone that reach skyward and beyond. The music ranges over a wide territory of emotion and atmosphere and there is plenty of epic drama in the two tracks.

After Vestiges’ contribution, A Lunn of Panopticon has his work cut out matching the other USBM band’s effort in creating immersive ambient BM opera. “A Letter” begins well with a dark bluesy sound touched with reverb and a bit of distortion that add extra urgency to an already fast track. This sounds quite a different band from the Panopticon I know from “Kentucky”. The vocals rage continuously throughout, wrapped up in a swift-moving maelstrom of music. The bass / drum rhythms are powerful and drive the song with a lot of force. The mood of the track is oddly uplifting and even triumphant for the most part but mixed with a streak of longing and sadness. “Eulogy” is a surprisingly happy little piece with a definite pop vibe, though the harsh singing in the far distance gives the song bite. The slight echo and washed-out ambience bring enough gloom to give the track a complicated emotional nature: it’s as if it wants to skip through summer fields but then reminds itself that life isn’t always sunshine and bright skies, and greyness and depression could be just moments away.

Panopticon concludes its side of the split with a cover of the Suicide Nation song “Collapse & Die”, a suitably cheery piece to end on. The song is played as a straight black metal song save for a folksy section in the middle which features mandolin and a sing-along chorus.

After hearing this split a few times, I’ve got to hand the greater glory to Panopticon who might not aspire to epic grandeur as Vestiges does but who can certainly handle atmosphere and sound in ways that suggest more emotional depth and complexity than that act has a right to possess. There certainly has been considerable development after “Kentucky” where the music could be sometimes monotonous. That’s no longer a problem here for Panopticon. Vestiges give the impression of laying out all their cards upfront and not having much in store left to give while Panopticon keeps dishing out one surprise after another right to the end. It’s a mighty tall order to share a split with Panopticon and Vestiges do their damnedest.

Contact: The Flenser

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