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PANOPTICON - Kentucky cover
3.62 | 14 ratings | 7 reviews
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Album · 2012


1. Bernheim Forest in Spring (2:54)
2. Bodies Under the Falls (10:28)
3. Come All Ye Coal Miners (4:13)
4. Black Soot and Red Blood (10:11)
5. Which Side Are You On? (3:00)
6. Killing the Giants as They Sleep (12:25)
7. Black Waters (4:57)
8. Kentucky (3:21)

Total Time 51:29


- A. Lunn / Everything

About this release

Released June 12th, 2012 on Pagan Flames Productions.

Released on black (250 copies) and green (250 copies) vinyl on June 12th, 2012.
CD Released Febuary 2013.

"Come All Ye Coal Miners", "Which Side Are You On?", and "Black Waters" are all covers of traditional folk songs.

Co-released with Handmade Birds Records.

A portion of the profits from this record are being donated to "Kentuckians for the Commonwealth" to fight mountain top removal.

All versions of Kentucky have different cover artwork.

Thanks to Kev Rowland for the addition and Bosh66, adg211288, 666sharon666 for the updates


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Black Metal, in general, is a genre that does not work for me. Several times I tried to listen to the classic bands of the genre and never really liked anything. What is considered the nature of the genre (the precarious, amateur and coarse production) is for me a destruction of the ears.

I had no idea who Panopticon was, and I thought 'Kentucky' was one of those one-man-band thing that Black Metal has so much. When I was reading about the album I saw that people use the term 'Atmospheric Black Metal' for it (a pompous name that it means not so violent). However, 'Kentucky' is different! The production is not so bad and for Black Metal standards is even good. But not only that, Austin L. Lunn (the name behind the project) tried to merge Black Metal with ... Bluegrass ...

Okay, I admit, that caught my attention alone. But the truth is that 'Kentucky' does not mix both genres at all. I hoped Black Metal would be overrun by banjos and acoustic guitars, what we have instead are Bluegrass vignettes between the Black Metal tracks, which makes the album clumsy at times. There is not a fusion of the two genres, what we have, in fact, are two genres in the same album, we could even separate the album in Part 1 and part 2, who likes Black Metal hears one part, who likes Country another.

But in the end Kentucky surprised me, I (save rare exceptions) had never managed to make sense of Black Metal (still don't), and it's the first time a record of the genre has provoked a feeling that is not dislike. Actually 'Kentucky' is a good record. It suffers from the evil of the century, it is too long, it should have been shorter, no fillers, because Black Metal can be very tiring.

But it's worth a listen, even just out of curiosity.
Released in 2012, Kentucky is the fourth album from one man (Austin Lunn) band Panopticon. It’s a curious blend of bluegrass and black metal. Having had a quick listen to the two follow up albums, this seems to be pretty much a template for his later work, though perhaps a bit less bluegrass. Having not heard anything pre-Kentucky I couldn’t say if they are in the same vein or not.

There’s been lots of great music made over the years when two different genres collide but bluegrass and black metal make unlikely bedfellows. Bernhein Forrest In The Spring opens – all banjos, acoustic guitar and fiddle. It’s an instrumental and Lunn does a good job of replicating an authentic bluegrass/folk sound, no doubt steeped in this type of music coming from Kentucky. If I had no background information on what to expect the following song, Bodies Under The Falls would have been a total shock as it’s pretty much pure black metal and totally at odds with Forrest In The Spring until a bluegrass section arrives about halfway. The album largely alternates between a pure folk/bluegrass piece and a black metal track with elements of the aforementioned. There’s no denying Lunn is a talented individual with a good grasp on both genres. My only problem is that they are so far apart they don’t work for me as a whole. Whilst I wouldn’t particularly choose to listen to bluegrass, if I did I wouldn’t want it infused with black metal and vice versa. I found myself leaning towards the black metal infused tracks – much is typical of the genre with tremolo picked guitars, blast beats and snarling vocal work. All well done, though not ground-breaking, with some subtle melodies revealing themselves after a few plays but would prefer it minus any folk elements creeping in.

I certainly couldn’t imagine any bluegrass/folk fans who weren’t metal lovers as well enjoying this album despite the appeal that the acoustic based songs could have. However, if you’re a black metal devote and can appreciate the blend of two such unlikely genres then you could find much to enjoy here. For me, it doesn’t work so don’t envisage myself returning to Panopticon too often.
MMA Reviewer's Challenge: May 2016

I once read an interview, I forget who it was with unfortunately (but it may have been Japan's Sigh), where one of the musician's pointed out that you can do anything with the black metal genre. While anything could be a bit of a stretch (I'm sure I'm not alone in not wanting to hear rap black metal for example) I understand such a sentiment perfectly. As far as pushing boundaries and bringing new ideas to the table goes, black metal is perhaps the most exciting genre of metal music out there these days. This is thanks to artists like Panopticon, a one man black metal act from the United States. Kentucky (2012) is the fourth full-length album released by the project, the mastermind of which is one Austin Lunn.

So just what is it about Kentucky that makes it different? Well it's the clash between two vastly different genres of music. When playing black metal Panopticon takes an atmospheric direction with some folk elements on this album, but there are songs here where the genre shifts entirely to bluegrass. Lunn opens and closes the album in this way, and also covers traditional songs in between his black metal pieces, though takes a more ambient feel on Jean Ritchie's Black Waters (1971). It's an eight track album, but only three of the tracks are actually black metal tracks, although due to their extended length, each being over the ten minute mark, those three still make up the bulk of the 51:29 long album. This sort of thing is, according my research, a unique kind of approach; I was only able to turn up one other band who crosses bluegrass and metal (metalcore in that case), that being Blood & Banjos, whose first material was released after Panopticon's Kentucky. So Kentucky seems to be the first album of its kind, though I have previously heard the two worlds clash by way of bluegrass versions of metal songs.

It's quite the contrast in sound even with some folk elements heard during the black metal tracks, but one that works surprisingly well. Lunn makes some great black metal here, with my personal favourite being Bodies Under the Falls, but also shows himself more than competent at the bluegrass stuff, and in good form for clean singing too. The two main bluegrass cover songs here, Come All Ye Coal Miners (written by Sarah Ogan Gunning in - according to some sources - 1937) and Which Side Are You On? (written by Florence Reece in 1931) seem to have been carefully chosen to fit with the theme of the album, being protest songs, as this seems to be quite a political album from Lunn. I personally only really care for the musical quality though, and that's on the top level to my ears whether Lunn is playing metal or bluegrass, original or cover. He tends to keep the two sounds separated, but that's actually part of what I like about the album.

All the Panopticon albums I've heard so far sound a little different within the black metal context but Kentucky is, thus far, my favourite by a massive margin, as well as being the most unique. A must own for both black metal fans and connoisseurs of the unusual.
MMA Reviewer's Challenge: May 2016

There are very few albums that manage to forge metal and other strange genres, and even fewer that do it well. In this case the said strange genre is bluegrass. Unfortunately these two aren't the most compatible- granted, it could be possible to be able to pull off such a blend, but Panopticon trips up. At least in a certain sense.

To call Kentucky a "bluegrass-metal" album would be misleading. The band does not play bluegrass material at the same time as the full on black metal. This could mostly be due to it being, well, black metal and bluegrass being, well bluegrass. Bluegrass isn't a genre that is able to blast you with any major volume, instead tending to stay pretty tranquil. Black metal does the opposite, and in Panopticon's case, relies heavily on that extreme magnitude to hit you as hard as possible to leave an affect. Because of this volume difference the two styles are practically unable to play at the same time. So instead, Panopticon filled the album with black metal songs and bluegrass songs, which in my opinion makes it a whole lot less interesting that I previously expected it to be. The only real time the album actually turns full black metal is on the long and somewhat uninteresting epics. Therefore the album comes across as a bluegrass band playing some metal.

In this case, I'll look at it from a bluegrass perspective, and it's mediocre. It's nothing to scoff at per-say; Panopticon utilizes those classic toe-tapping beats to drive things that are very typical of archetypal bluegrass (EDIT: The songs themselves are apparently covers of songs from the 30's. This means that these archetypes are excusable to a certain extent, but that also means that Lunn didn't completely write original bluegrass material). Not much is brought new to the end table, and leaves not much impact on me. The metal is pretty alright though, speaking as a non-fan of black metal I still find it impressive that the one-man group can still pull of some okay metal spectacles in the album.

Kentucky was a disappointing album with lackluster levels of effort. If you are interested in a gimmick like this, be prepared that the experience may not be what you think it will be. Yet I do still say that you should check it out when you get a chance.
MMA Reviewer's Challenge: May 2016

Panopticon's Kentucky is one of those albums that doesn't belong to just one genre. This isn't an uncommon occurrence in metal with all the acts out there that cross, to name just a few examples, heavy metal and power metal, black metal and death metal, or symphonic metal and gothic metal. You also get a lot of progressive metal bands that are just as much progressive rock bands. Less common would be albums like Kentucky which has Panopticon crossing atmospheric black metal with bluegrass.

I wouldn't call this bluegrass black metal (which I guess would make it blackgrass?) as such, as mostly the two genres are presented as separate entities. Bluegrass does crop up in the metal songs but it's mostly heard as shorter songs between the metal tracks. The experience of the album is almost like switching between two different albums track after track, so this cannot be called bluegrass metal in any way. Now I'm going to have to admit to not really knowing much about bluegrass music (I find those tracks quite pleasant though) so I'm going to review Kentucky as a metal album. There are actually more tracks here that aren't metal but because the metal ones are much longer compositions this album still ends up being more metal than not.

Black metal being one of those love it or hate it genres I don't think that Panopticon does anything in the three black metal songs that is going to convince a naysayer and the music here is certainly not some of the more accessible black metal out there, but for those of us who enjoy the genre I find these to be three great black metal tracks, especially Bodies Under the Falls. I know a bit of Panopticon's other material, and I'd say that this is one of the project's best songs. Black Soot and Red Blood and Killing the Giants as They Sleep both feature extended voice-overs which I know some (and often myself) find off-putting but I actually quite liked them in the former at least, though I'm more neutral to those in the latter.

Kentucky overall may veer into the bluegrass stuff a bit too much for some listeners but I personally found it a nice and unusual touch. I can't really comment on the quality of the bluegrass though I do know that three of these songs are actually covers of traditional songs, presumably done faithfully, but as a black metal album I find it excellent. 4.5 stars.
MMA Reviewer's Challenge: May 2016

Panopticon - Kentucky

"Kentucky" is the fourth studio album from one-man black metal band Panopticon. "Kentucky" is an interesting album and quite the oddity in the black metal genre. Why? Well it's the only black metal album, and only metal album for that matter, that combines metal with bluegrass that I know of. I know next to nothing about bluegrass, but I have a basic understanding of the genre to tell that this does indeed combine the two genres and each genre isn't exactly easy to combine.

"Kentucky", while combining two genres that are pretty much polar opposites, doesn't really play the two styles in unison as you may first expect. Instead the album has 10+ minute songs that feature atmospheric black metal segments, as well as bluegrass passages. There are also shorter songs which are pure bluegrass songs, most of which being covers of traditional folk songs. The black metal parts are pretty standard atmospheric black metal, you have frantic drumming, shredding guitar, and an atmosphere invoking the feeling of being stuck in the cold.

The shorter folk songs are easily my favorites from the album, they have a dark feeling to them yet are also pretty relaxing to listen to. Austin Lunn's vocals are also really emotive in these songs as well, helping the songs sound very beautiful. 'Which Side are You on?' is especially really nice, it reminds me a bit of the folk band Rusted Root. Unfortunately, the same thing can't be said for the black metal sections. All of the black metal passages sound the same to my ears, with not much variety to differentiate them from each other. They aren't bad, just boring and not engaging like the folk songs. While I find the lengthy songs boring for the most part, I must say that the guitar work around the five minute mark in 'Killing the Giants as They Sleep' is really nice. However, the transition from the ambiance back to black metal isn't clean at all. It just kind of startles you as you start relaxing to the peaceful melancholic ambiance.

Overall, while it's an interesting and unique idea, I just don't think the execution of it here works very well. I'm glad the bluegrass and black metal was separated for the most part, so I could enjoy the pure bluegrass tunes. Personally I prefer my black metal with strong memorable riffs, only enjoying a few atmospheric bands/artists, so maybe it's just not my kind of music. I'm just not sure how bluegrass and metal could be combined in any way other than in atmospheric styles. While not too enjoyable for me, I must applaud the unique idea. Hope you found this review helpful.

Feel free to comment!
Vim Fuego
MMA Reviewer's Challenge: May 2016

A panopticon is an interesting concept. Dreamed up by 18th century social reformer and father of modern utilitarian philosophy Jeremy Bentham, a panopticon was initially an idea for a low labour prison. By building a circular prison with a central watch tower, a single guard could potentially supervise hundreds of prisoners unobserved, providing huge savings in staffing. The theory was, prisoners would not know if they were being watched, and therefore had to behave as if they were. No panopticon prisons were ever built to Bentham’s exact instructions, but experiments were conducted with similar constructions. And a strange thing happened. Prisoners went insane.

Inmates hated the panopticon to the point it drove some to mental breakdown. The thought of every single moment of life being under observation, 24 hours a day was just too much, even for hardened criminals. Bentham would have been horrified, because central to human happiness in his philosophy was the experience of pleasure and the lack of pain, including psychological. Many prisons built in a similar style have now been scrapped, but some are still used.

Even some workplaces were operated in this style, as employers found productivity increased, albeit as worker happiness declined. The word panopticon has become synonymous with the invasion of the state into every aspect of life, a lack of privacy for ordinary people, the oppression of workers, and the erosion of civil rights. And this is where “Kentucky” by Panopticon fits in.

This album covers the state of Kentucky from its bloody origins when the Cherokee were ruthlessly and forcibly removed from the forests, through the turbulent and violent times when the coal mining industry destroyed the landscape and humanscape simultaneously, and concludes with a native Kentuckian despairing at the environmental desolation still visited upon his once pristine home.

Although it’s instrumental, “Bernheim Forest in Spring” is hardly the typical atmospheric black metal introduction track. Rather than the “grym, frostbitten” silliness often associated with black metal, it creates an impression of timeless forest covered hills and morning mists, encapsulating the primeval sylvan solitude of Kentucky’s wilds.

The tranquillity is obliterated by the coal blackened sledgehammer of “Bodies Under the Falls”. Man-mountain polymath Austin Lunn, the creator of the initial backwoods beauty is also its destroyer, jarring the listener from any sense of peace of mind with a barrage of crystalline sharp black metal riffs, with the subtle undertone of a flute. This epic track is a telling of the arrival of Europeans in the Appalachian mountains from the point of view of the displaced Cherokee, forever weeping at the destruction of their idyll and the rending of their connection with the land, but taking some solace through killing some of the newly arrived invaders.

Traditional folk song “Come All Ye Coal Miners” provides contrast to the metallic songs once again. It is a call to arms against the coal mining companies which subjugate miners, whose wages and lives were both cheap, and includes a chilling sample where a miner explains both miners and the environment are considered disposable by the mining industry.

“Black Soot and Red Blood” pulls the black metal back a shade, but the subject matter is still brutal. The mining industry was incredibly ruthless and cruel, screwing down miners to subsistence living, whilst crippling and killing men through neglect and lack of safety measures.

Kick men long enough and they will eventually kick back, as the miners of “Bloody Harlan” County did in the 1930s. The miners went on strike repeatedly, demanding better pay and conditions. The mining companies resorted to hired thugs and scab labour. After the Battle of Evarts on the 5th of May, 1931, which saw deputies armed with machine guns take on strikers wielding shotguns, and resulted in four deaths, the governor of Kentucky called in the National Guard to restore order. This incident was one of the inspirations for Florence’s Reece’s protest song “Which Side Are You On”, the next track on the album.

The folk/gospel rendition of “Which Side Are You On” is an example of less being more, with the simplistic melody backed by banjos, voices and a thudding beat, creating images of desperate men holding picket lines against what must have seemed overwhelming odds. “Killing the Giants as They Sleep” collides with the end of the song like a phalanx of deputies smashing into a determined picket.

Leaving the woes of the labour movement behind, “Killing the Giants as They Sleep” picks up on environmental concerns, as generations of mining have desecrated the once pristine landscape. Otherworldly flutes float through the metallic maelstrom of the song. There are ghosts in the music, of men losing their connection with the wilderness, and of forest spirits driven before the relentless destruction of mineral extraction. The song jags viciously between the ethereal and the painfully hyperreal.

“Black Waters” the third folk song used on the album, further stresses the Appalachian desolation, although it is unrecognisable as such. The song drones like a wrecked church organ with a choir of the damned chanting behind it.

The gentle mountain music of the final track “Kentucky” ties up all the loose ends. It leaves the listener thinking about the previous seven tracks, about how humans can be so inhumane and destructive in the pursuit of progress and profit, and how the places people live and work help define them.

The contrasts created between the black metal and bluegrass country elements of this album demonstrate different realities in the same locality, but also reveal the only weakness to this minor masterpiece. Bluegrass music almost always sounds upbeat, even when a song is depicting a melancholic or dark subject. The banjo is an inherently cheerful instrument, and bluegrass violins are hardly sonorous.

This minor quibble aside, “Kentucky” is an album to quieten black metal nay-sayers and genre mixing sceptics. It describes a powerful interconnected story without becoming a full on concept album. The non-metallic elements are executed with skill and conviction, and do not dominate or denigrate the metal. The metal passages are attractive even to those who scoff at black metal’s dogmas and clichéd excesses. This is an all-seeing album for anyone serious about metal.

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