I first learned that Falls of Rauros and Panopticon would be joining forces for a split release back in December 2013, when Panopticon’s Austin Lunn accepted our invitation to write an article about his favorite releases from 2013. It’s a natural pairing. There is, for example, a deep mutual respect between the two bands. Austin Lunn wrote in that same article that Falls of Rauros are his “favorite current American band” and that their forthcoming 2014 full-length (Believe In No Coming Shore) “may be my favorite record ever”, and Falls of Rauros have called Panopticon’s forthcoming album “absolutely massive and stunning on all levels”.
Beyond the respect they have for each other, both bands have earned the respect of both critics and a dedicated following of fans: they are both quintessential American black metal bands, and not just because they happen to be based in Maine and (at least temporarily) Minnesota, respectively. They have successfully incorporated American folk traditions into their powerful and emotionally resonant music, so much so that you could call them American folk metal bands instead of black metal bands and I wouldn’t argue with you.
Yet you may be surprised by what you hear on the new split, as compared the sounds captured on each of the bands’ last albums and on the albums to come. Panopticon’s tracks are unquestionably an homage to Norwegian black metal traditions, while Falls of Rauros have, if anything, brought even more vibrant life and light into their songs. You’ll get a chance to hear both styles of music on display as we premiere one song by each band from this excellent split.
Falls of Rauros recorded their two songs in late 2011 and early 2012, not long after Aaron and Ray of FOR visited Norway, where they stayed with Austin Lunn and his wife, who were also spending time there while Austin apprenticed as a beermaker. So, as Aaron has stated, the songs represent more of “a snapshot in a transitional period for the band” than what preceded it or the music that will be heard later this year on Believe In No Coming Shore.
The first of the songs, “Unavailing”, is a 12-minute saga that’s gripping from beginning to end. The opening section of the song is simply electrifying, moving from rhythmic pounding and dark, distorted chord progressions into the combined assault of blasting drums and utterly vivid, scalding howls. Distinctive guitar melodies rise and fall and ripple through all that heaviness until everything falls away just past the halfway point. In the section that follows, an acoustic guitar melody takes over, eventually partnered by echoing electric guitar and drums, creating an atmosphere that’s slow, hypnotic, and meditative, but still passionate. While the intensity builds again in the song’s final minutes, the mood becomes both melancholy and transcendent. It’s one hell of a musical journey.
The band’s second track — which we’re premiering today — is a horse of a different color. “The Purity of Isolation” includes more acoustic strumming, what sounds like a pedal steel guitar, and swelling, lush, panoramic melody. There are moments that sound more like country- or folk-rock than metal, and clean vocal sounds appear, as well as those howls that resemble the noise of claws raking against glass. It’s very easy to lose yourself in this song.
Panopticon made four songs for the split, all of them self-recorded (as were the FOR tracks). They all sound as if they were influenced by Austin Lunn’s sojourn in Norway during the fall and winter of 2011. They’re draped in a shroud of distortion and punctured with feedback, with an often furious intensity and an aura that conjures vistas of fire and ice.
The rhythms in “Through Mountains I Wander This Evening” alternate between galloping and stalking, and a memorable melody courses through the ripping assault like a frigid river in flood. “Can You Loan Me A Raven” begins in a slow, almost stately manner (though ghostly and depressive) but becomes a squalling, shrieking storm of clattering drums and whirlwind chords.
I think of “Gods of Flame” as a war song. The music moves back and forth from adrenaline-fueled racing to grim, off-pace movements, and it doesn’t take much imagination to see flames and smoke, to hear the clash of weapons, to know that blood has been spilled.
The final song and the longest — which we are premiering today — is “One Cold Night”. It features an even more pronounced contrast than “Gods of Flame”, moving between slow, sombre, distortion-shrouded passages that inspire sensations of cold and isolation to periods of blasting frenzy, with urgent tremolo melodies and attacking drumbeats. Venomous vocals reverberate off mountain walls or stands of timber, and at the end, echoing guitar notes rise fleetingly above the darkness before the song is snuffed out by a swelling cloud of static and distortion. The atmosphere is bleak and harrowing, and nothing resembling hope is to be found.
The music on this new split is probably less of a teaser for the forthcoming albums by both bands as it is a representation of where their heads were at a particular moment in time. Even though this split still leaves us guessing at what will come next, it is a fine addition to the discography of two formidable American bands whose talents now put everything they do into the “must listen” category.
Bindrune Recordings has not yet announced a release date for the split, but it is now available for pre-order in either white vinyl (here) or black vinyl (here). It is limited to a total of 500 copies and will come with a download card.
Two of the songs from the split have previously premiered at DECIBEL — “Unavailing” by Falls of Rauros and “Through Mountains I Wander This Evening” by Panopticon — and I’ve included both of those below, after the songs we’re proud to bring you for the first time today.