Panopticon - Social DisservicesBlack Metal
The genre of black metal is a curiosity in and of itself. Despite the extreme nature of the music and the scene(s) itself, black metal seems to be the preferred genre of metal for non-metal fans. Indie music website Pitchfork usually reviews a black metal album in the rare instance when they actually review a metal album, and indie legend Phil Elverum frequently has black metal leak into his Microphones/Mount Eerie compositions. Thurston Moore recently joined a black metal band. Hell, even my mom likes Dimmu Borgir.
Panopticon is a black metal project from Kentucky that contains elements of the second wave of black metal, shoegaze, hardcore punk, ambient, and curiously enough Appalachian folk music. The vocals are deliberately buried, acting more as an instrument than a voice. Social Disservices is my first encounter with this project, being from Appalachia myself I was quite curious as to how a black metal band would incorporate elements of it. Panopticon expands upon these elements on the project's next record, titled Kentucky. It's quite a curious combination for the simple fact that not many metal bands have decided to explore United States Folk Music; usually, metal bands stick to Middle Eastern and European folk music.
Despite the fact that there are only four songs spread out over 50 minutes, there is not a dull moment to be found. The vocals weave in and out of the razor-sharp mix, taking on a multi-dimensional aspect that is seriously lacking in modern day black metal. You don't need to know that the lyrics focus on philosophy, insanity, and loneliness to feel this in the music. This is angry black metal, but it's not angry at Christianity or anything; it is angry at God himself. It doesn't say “You're a fool to believe in God”, it says “Pray to some distant and silent god that this will all go away”. It doesn't feel cheesy, as many of the Satanist leaning black metal bands do, it feels frustrated, afraid, alone, and ultimately human.
There is even an element of hope, although it is stubborn optimism, in the last two songs “Subject” and “Patient”. Both of them are structured, and even sonically similar in parts, more like a Godspeed You! Black Emperor song than a black metal song. The vocalist spends the last minute or so of “Subject” telling his subject (no pun intended, really) to “never give in, never give up”, and this is one of the few lines of the album that is easily understood. It sounds odd against the haze of the black metal background, but it also packs more of a punch do to this. It's a simple line that in lesser hands would come across as melodramatic and amateur.
This is a black metal album for fans of Closer. This is a black metal album for fans of Loveless. This is even a black metal album for fans of De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas. This little known project has crafted not only one of the finest black albums of recent times, but of all time. It's emotional in a way that the extreme nature of black metal often buries. Gris is the only other band I can think of that makes black metal on this level. Even if you aren't a metal fan, this album will be a great listen. Maybe even if you're my mom.