For Fans Of
So this one came out of nowhere, didn’t it? When I heard that my beautiful black metal boy Panopticon had released a new EP, ‘The Crescendo of Dusk’, totally out of the blue, I was pretty damn keen. Obviously, I’m a big fan of Panopticon, given the essay I wrote in December 2018 on the band that did everything but give them a reach-around. That being said, I was a little sceptical of this new EP’s quality when I read that it’s made up of two songs that were left on the cutting room floor of both the ‘Scars of Man…‘ sessions and the ‘Autumn Eternal‘ sessions. Unfortunately, my spidey senses were correct, as I don’t think the quality of these two tracks is enough to warrant their own release – EP or otherwise.
The first side of this coin is the 13-minute title track, ‘The Crescendo of Dusk’. This is one of Panopticon’s longest tracks, and unfortunately, it really feels like it. For a song as long as 13 minutes, there’s surprisingly little going on other than some gloomy harmonies and the band trying to sonically re-create this cold, mysterious feeling of you being out in Arctic tundra, gazing up at the Northern lights. (The theme of this new EP, FYI). Yet the song just plods along from one section to the next without feeling strung together in a cohesive way – whether it’s the standard black metal blasting moments or the vocal-chanting, hymn-like passages. Aside from that, there’s very little here distinguishing the song from Panopticon’s more recent output too, throwing in some touches of melodic death metal and some complicated (at least for black metal) guitar licks that are quite typical of a Panopticon release at this stage. Even the production sounds muddier than usual for the band, adding to a general sense that the song feels weighed down by something else. Maybe that’s the point, for it all to feel messy and sound overly gloomy – like it’s not meant to belong – but it doesn’t pay off.
The second and final track is a 7-minute acoustic song, ‘The Labyrinth’. This begins with eerie sounds of hailing winds and crunching footsteps on snow, before minimal acoustic guitar lines bend and pick away as an accompaniment to rugged, spoken-word vocals about the harsh climates. It all eventually leads into something resembling a build up, a crescendo of sorts, with the acoustic guitar becoming more prominent towards the final third, but the song ends by returning back to the original acoustic motif, lacking any kind of satisfying payoff. While a shortened version might be a nice touch on a full-length LP, as an interlude or as an intro song, ‘The Labyrinth’ doesn’t have enough of a draw to be worthwhile by itself.
My biggest criticism of ‘The Crescendo of Dusk’ EP is that it keeps the folksy/country elements of Panopticon completely separate from the black metal parts, with the former being confined to ‘The Labyrinth’ and the latter confined to ‘The Crescendo of Dusk’. As I said in my aforementioned write-up about ‘Kentucky’, that album was so interesting because it fused the two genres together in a way that made it truly unique. I believe that keeping those significant parts separate renders the music far less intriguing and effective. It’s like re-separating peanut butter and celery: all it does is remind you of what’s to be missed when certain weird elements are combined. Both songs were resurrected from the cutting room floor, but that’s probably where they should have stayed, honestly.
In all seriousness, and as much as I enjoy past Panopticon releases, I’m not a fan of this EP at all. I read that A.Lunn/Panopticon are no longer interested in making “political music” anymore, which upsets me greatly as they’re really fucking good at that. However, I’ve come to accept that reality with their last few albums. But for a new release dedicated to the Aurora Borealis – one of the greatest sights of natural phenomena in the world that doesn’t take place within Skinner’s kitchen – and for a release titled ‘The Crescendo of Dusk’, this is neither spectacular nor does it have much of a crescendo.
1. The Crescendo Of Dusk
2. The Labyrinth
‘The Crescendo of Dusk’ is out now. Stream it yonder: