Like good science, sometimes good music comes from the simple question of “what would happen if we mixed this… with this?” The results can be absolutely spectacular when the sparks fly. Just take a look at some of the incredible results of this process: An Autumn For Crippled Children’s 2013 masterpiece, Try Not To Destroy Everything You Love, which offers up a dosage of black metal along with a healthy serving of noisy dreampop, or Animals As Leader’s brilliant mixture of jazz and sweeping progressive metal, or Spawn of Possession’s ass-kicking combo of classical guitar and technical death metal.
Austin Lunn, the brains behind the one-man band Panopticon, is no stranger to this question. His three most recent albums – Kentucky, Roads to the North, and now Autumn Eternal– mix two incredibly disparate genres, black metal and American folk, into a one-two punch that is as beautiful as it is brutal. 2012’s Kentucky saw him toying with more atmospheric black metal in a concept album about the plight of Kentuckian coal miners, and Roads had Lunn going a much more straightforward route, at times veering into a territory strangely close to melodic death metal. Now, Autumn Eternal, the third (and final) album in Lunn’s trilogy, shows Lunn trying his hand at the third pillar of modern black metal: postblack.
As with Kentucky before it, Autumn Eternal opens with a solely bluegrass instrumental track. “Tamarack’s Gold Returns” is a sleepy ode to calm fall days spent amidst the deciduous forests of the Midwest United States. The combination of banjo and fiddle is enticing, and one can feel themselves getting lost in the aural landscapes from the very beginning. It’s notably different from either of the bluegrass tracks featured in the trilogy, too; “Bernheim Forest In Spring” and “The Long Road 1: One Last Fire” are both energetic, vivacious beasts, but here, it’s the calm before the inevitable storm, a moment to catch one’s breath before the inevitable assault of Lunn’s ferocious black metal.
And the storm does come: the rest of Autumn Eternal is relentless. However, far from the fast, lively chords of Kentucky and the seething rage of Roads to the North, it’s a slow burn of an album. Like the changing of the fall leaves, Lunn’s writing here is methodical, organic, and more an ongoing process than a series of movements or actions. That’s not to say there aren’t distinctly aggressive moments throughout the album, but overall, the record shows Lunn digging into a much more pensive and precise territory than before. Everything feels more subdued and mid-paced, and synthesizers enjoy a larger presence than before in crafting the overall atmosphere.
Special credit must be given to Colin Marston (Krallice, Gorguts, Behold… The Arctopus) for his work in mixing the album. Everything feels clear and tight, but without losing the much-needed natural, raw sound that black metal strives for. The drums, in particular, sound especially good, sitting perfectly in the mix to provide maximum punchiness.
With this trilogy of albums, Lunn has created perhaps a perfect harmony of black metal’s strengths and diversities, and that wouldn’t be possible without Autumn Eternal’s magnificent capstone to the project. It feels natural, organic, and methodical, masterful in its writing, fiery and alive in its execution. Autumn itself may not be truly eternal, but thanks to the newest offering from the genius behind Panopticon, the feelings it conjures up can now reside forever in the mind of the listener.