PanoWhen Austin Lunn released ‘Kentucky’ he set himself an extremely difficult challenge; in creating one of the most immersive crossovers of folk and black metal that’s been written to date, he raised the bar incredibly high and it was unlikely he’d ever be able to replicate that. Thus, with baited breath, fans have waited the two long years for ‘Roads to the North’.

This record doesn’t replicate ‘Kentucky’ and, thankfully, that’s a good thing. ‘Roads…’ proves itself to be every bit as good, if not better. It’s much more of a personal work of art, compared to the political agenda of its predecessor and this change in topic was hinted at on his recent split with Falls of Rauros. In the last two years, Lunn has spent time in Norway, learned the art of craft beer brewing and become a father, so he has plenty to be passionate about and that truly shines through in the music.

This album goes hard; the rhythms race, the riffs blaze and the tremolo picked segments tear through the songs like a knife through butter. However, even at its darkest and most depraved moments the general feeling never becomes one of grim frostbite, instead the listener is taken on a joyous and uplifting journey. There isn’t a moment that isn’t utterly compelling and Lunn really outdoes himself in the quality of his musicianship. The juxtaposition of the folk elements, such as flutes and acoustic guitars with the harsher black metal riffing works beautifully and the richly textured passages of the drifting melodies on ‘Where Mountains Pierce the Sky’ set the scene for rambling through mountain passages and exploring dewy meadows.

Panopticon truly is one of the most versatile artists that black metal currently has to offer and anyone even a little bit interested in the genre would be doing themselves an enormous favour by giving this record a spin or two. If that doesn’t sell it enough for you, then take into consideration that ‘Roads…’ has the most creative use of a banjo in metal since Taake’s ‘Noregs Vaapen’.

(9/10 Angela Davey)