Nature begins to shed its green exterior and disrobes to fiery foliage in the fall. Balmy summer air becomes crisp autumn breezes, animals will retreat into hibernation or fly south to avoid the impending chill, and we are left to revel in the beauty of our world changing before our eyes. The change is slow, but this tempered pace can be most welcomed. Gradual transformations produce some of nature’s most elegant treasures, like diamonds blooming from the heated mantle of the Earth. For Austin Lunn, he has experienced this beautiful change on a much more personal level.
Lunn operates under the moniker of Panopticon when he is single-handedly crafting his special blend of atmospheric and folk black metal. He lived in Louisville, Kentucky for many years before ultimately moving to Minnesota where he and his brother-in-law opened HammerHeart Brewing Company and the small, vinyl-only reissue label, Lost Forty Recordings. He rarely does interviews and has since stepped away from social media, allowing labels to operate his Facebook page as he focuses on his family, music, and brewery. This is not to suggest that Lunn is reclusive by any stretch of the imagination. These latest endeavors are positive steps forward in his life. Lunn’s recent changes have seeped into his music, as can be heard in his latest album, Autumn Eternal.
Thematically, Autumn Eternal is the concluding album in a trilogy that also featured 2014’s Roads to the North and 2012’s Kentucky. These three albums chronicled his love for his hometown in Kentucky, his journey to find a better life for his family, and his internalization of essentially starting over now that he has found his better life. Stylistically, there is a change in tone over the three albums. Kentucky had much more of an Appalachia bluegrass and folk influence mixed with gritty black metal. That slowly began to dissolve and a dark and melodic black metal soon appeared in parts of the icy Roads to the North and has taken over as the dominant overtone in Autumn Eternal.
Panopticon’s ability to construct an atmosphere in his music has never been called into question and that remains evermore true on Autumn Eternal. The opening track, “Tamarack’s Gold Returns” is a four and a half minute-long instrumental homage to Kentucky that has a somber, folk-like feel (this is about the only instance of any prior folk/bluegrass music on the album). “Into the North Woods” and the title track work to smoothly transition from past work to present influences that run rampant through this stellar record.
There is a more refined fluidity to Autumn Eternal. Songs like “Oaks Ablaze” and the massive “Sleep to the Sounds of Crashing Waves” exemplify this as both songs feature intertwined moments of outright black metal that weave into and out of ambient instrumental sections and natural soundscapes. These seamless shifts appear throughout the entirety of the album, but most notably on those two tracks. This kind of musical melding is slightly out of the norm for Lunn, but it is marvelously executed due in part to a great production team that also included friends Spenser Morris and Colin Marston. Lunn also received musical help from other musicians such as Petri Eskelinen (guest vocals on “A Superior Lament”), Johan Becker (violin on “Tamarack’s Gold Returns” and “Sleep to the Sounds of Crashing Waves”), and Nostarian (cello on “Sleep to the Sounds of Crashing Waves”).
Panopticon as a musical entity has always pushed boundaries whether they be his own or black metal’s. The inclusion of other other musicians and the addition of Marston to the production of Autumn Eternal represent a willingness to expand on his already distinctive sound. With the musical pedigree that Lunn boasts as well as that of the people he has surrounded himself with for Autumn Eternal, he has created a strikingly emotional record. “Into the North Woods” exudes promise and hope, “Pale Ghosts” and “A Superior Lament,” as one would posit, give a much more mournful tone. Lunn has always had a knack for showing black metal can be much more than vitriol and can cover a larger emotional breadth.
The beauty in this album does not completely lay in the way it makes one feel emotionally. There is a sensory component to Autumn Eternal as well. In listening to this album, I found myself quite often being able to tap into memories of fall. I could recall scents of bonfires on nights I spent with friends. I could think back to driving the Blue Ridge Parkway with my family and looking out over valleys of trees of every shade of red, orange, yellow. I could remember standing next to chilly streams and waterfalls on hiking trips, hearing the roaring waters and feeling its mist against my skin.
There is a magnificence to music that can invoke that kind of imagery, and it is a magnificence that Autumn Eternal inherently possesses because Austin Lunn has the genius to project diverse emotions and atmosphere into his music and let listeners feel something that they may have not felt before or for quite some time. From the album cover, to the titles of songs, and even down to how Lunn howls his vocals and delivers all of his instruments; it places you in a wondrous state of imagery and emotional receptivity. It holistically embodies fall’s aura and delivers an introspective look at Lunn’s internal processing as he moves on to his next phase in life. It takes brilliant musicianship to be able to craft something so deep and expansive as Autumn Eternal, and there is certainly no doubt Panopticon is endowed with that ability. This has been one of the more enthralling albums I have listened to in quite some time.
Knows he doesn’t look like he listens to metal, but trust him. He does. He spends an overwhelming majority of his day listening to it. When he isn’t busy becoming a physical therapist at Duke University, he splits his time as a writer for not only Bearded Gentlemen Music but at Metal Injection, Noisey, and Treble as well. Cody can be found on Twitter or Instagram and if you ever see him in person, please buy him a cup of coffee.