If you were gonna write a Great Jones Street-esque postmodern novel about an American black metal artist, you could do worse than to base your protagonist on Austin Lunn. It’s not that Lunn himself seems like a DeLillo character, per se, but his story is just so perfect that, like … well, like … you know, what? That would be a pretty great novel, actually. Ignore everything I just said. Don’t write that book. I call dibs on that one. (TALKIN’ TO YOU, DARNIELLE.)
Lemme draw the outline for you: Austin Lunn makes music as Panopticon. Panopticon are a one-man band, and Austin Lunn is that man. Prior to Panopticon, Lunn played in a band called Anagnorisis. There was another guy in Anagnorisis also named Austin Lunn. The two Austin Lunns adopted aliases to avoid confusion (Lundr and Skallehammeren, respectively). Lundr left Anagnorsis to focus on Panopticon. Skallehammeren ALSO left Anagnorsis, but subsequently returned to that band for their 2013 LP, Beyond All Light. If I’m not mistaken — and I’m not gonna lie, this was hard to keep straight when it was fresh in my mind FIVE YEARS AGO — Lundr was Anagnorisis’ original singer, and when Skallehammeren came back, he took over on vocals. Presently, there is nobody in Anagnorisis named “Austin Lunn” or “Skallehammeren.” Were there ever two Austin Lunns? I dunno — this part of the plot could either be left intentionally confusing (like Lost Highway) or maybe it could be a source of confusion for the characters in the book, but played relatively straight for the reader (like The New York Trilogy). Neither this article nor this novel treatment is about Anagnorisis, but as an aside, if you have not heard Beyond All Light, you should get on that post haste. That thing is sick as fuck.
Skallehammeren also recorded and mixed the first two Panopticon albums (OR DID HE?), but musically, those were pretty straightforward black metal albums in the style of the genre’s icons, plus some crust-punk stuff. Austin Lunn aka Lundr aka Panopticon really hit his stride on LP3, Kentucky, on which he earnestly infused his Scandinavian-derived atmospheric black metal with elements of his own native music: fiddle, banjo … bluegrass, basically. The album is called Kentucky because Lunn comes from Kentucky, and bluegrass is to Kentucky what viking beer-hall war-and-death songs are to Norway. You don’t hear a lot of banjo in black metal, and that’s not such a bad thing, generally speaking. But Lunn was making some brave artistic choices; it was pretty exciting and totally unique.
From there, though, Lunn got even better. He came back from Kentucky with 2014’s even-better Roads To The North, which (I believe) was written in part on a trip to Norway. He did follow roads to the north, though: He moved from Kentucky to Minnesota, where he opened a craft brewery named after a Bathory album. (These are absolutely GREAT DETAILS for the novel, btw.) Lunn’s move to Minnesota also inspired Panopticon’s best album (so far), 2015’s Autumn Eternal, which we named the #1 metal album of that year. I wrote about it here; just scroll all the way down to the bottom.
Since then, Panopticon have been pretty quiet, but earlier this year, Lunn announced a new double-album on the way: The Scars Of Man On The Once Nameless Wilderness (I And II). Here’s what he had to say about it:
The first half of the album is atmospheric metal, the second half is more americana focused, so beware if you hate country/folk.
Huh! Now that’s a pretty bold announcement from the dude who made Kentucky, because it wasn’t like he was ever not fucking with country/folk in Panopticon’s music. Furthermore, I listened to two or three songs from the first half of Scars on my way in to work this morning, and I gotta tell you, it sounds like there’s still a pretty significant Americana focus in his atmospheric metal! So I truly have no idea what awaits me once I dig into this thing in full. Here’s another quote from Lunn:
Please don’t listen to the album on your laptop speakers, it will sound like shit. Give it a shot on a long hike or by a fire with headphones.
I think people who listen to ANY music on laptop speakers are deranged, but since there’s a 30% chance you’re reading these words on a laptop screen, it’s worth repeating Lunn’s directive. Panopticon’s music is a product of the natural environment in which the artist is immersed at the time of its creation, and if you want to hear it, you kinda have to be in a natural environment of your own.
So I’m embedding a stream below, but encouraging you to heed Lunn’s warnings. Based on the man’s trajectory to date, this one should be pretty awesome, but … it could also be weird as hell. I have no idea. It’s definitely gonna be different. I’m stoked to find out.
One more thing from Lunn:
NOT ONE SINGLE PERSON WAS ASKED TO REVIEW THIS ALBUM.
That’s going in the book, too, no question. But all that’s a ways off, man. For now, let’s just listen to some music.
Buy the The Scars Of Man On The Once Nameless Wilderness (I And II) here.