Vestiges & Panopticon
03. A Letter
05. Collapse and Die (Suicide Nation cover)
[Replenish Records/The Flenser]
It’s weird to imagine a time when beautiful atmosphere and longing ambiance were thought to be the antithesis of extreme metal. Nowadays, the two aesthetics have long been mastered as complimentary. The post-whatever school of thought being the zeitgeist of the moment, it’s no wonder how black metal has become so affected. Strange, considering that it’s a genre seemingly built on an elitist exclusionary mindset, if stereotypes are to be trusted. Two bands cutting against this grain and bringing black metal out of bleak traditionalism and into oddly bright furtherance are Vestiges and Panopticon, whose split EP is a vibrant testimony for the American atmospheric black metal movement.
Washington DC’s Vestiges opens the split with the ascendant overture ‘VII,’ turning haunting ambiance into crushing sludge and droning post-rock chord progressions before an explosive transition into the next track, ‘VIII,’ where blackened fury meets punishing crust punk rhythms. The soundscapes explored in ‘VIII’s 13-minute runtime are surprisingly beautiful despite the otherwise grim aesthetic. It helps that the band inject hints of major-key melodies within the distorted tremolo picking, which adds an air of triumph in context. ‘VIII‘ soars with dynamic ebb and flow, reaching powerful heights and pensive, somber valleys. This is exactly how songwriting for the genre should be executed. Not one second of this 13-minute track is wasted.
Moving on to the split’s second half is Louisville, KY’s genre-bending wonder Panopticon. Those who hold Panopticon’s much acclaimed 2012 album Kentucky in high regard may find something missing in the second half of the split; while they make an appearance in a cover of Suicide Nation’s ‘Collapse and Die,’ the folk instrumentation and bluegrass influence that set Panopticon apart has been eschewed in favor of a more “traditional” atmospheric black metal approach on the two original pieces contributed to this release. Even without the odd marriage of genres that allowed for his explosive breakout, ‘A Letter’ and ‘Eulogy’ are expertly crafted and engaging tracks that offer highly listenable black metal in terms of enveloping atmosphere and beautiful melodies that are absolutely moving. ‘A Letter’ has got to be one of the most beautiful songs Panopticon has released so far, and that alone is worth the experience and any price of admission incurred.
What we have here are two groups at the apex of a movement. Along with Deafheaven, Vestiges and Panopticon have crafted one of the most stand-out black metal releases this year. While the formula is tweaked and experimented with just enough to make purists uncomfortable, these two up-and-coming acts are making black metal just the right amount of accessible that can serve as a springboard for listeners to delve deeper into the genre. Following in the footsteps of the innovating Wolves in the Throne Room, these acts are making great strides for USBM in both style and substance.
Vestiges/Panopticon – Split gets…