At one point or another, everyone has felt lost. That’s part of the human condition. It is within human nature to suffer, to feel alone, to feel beaten down, to feel lost. But it is also human nature to feel love, to feel joy and passion, to feel calm and at peace. To feel at home. As humans, we are capable of feeling great joys and sorrows, of feeling beaten down, and of rising back up. The Scars of Man on the Once Nameless Wilderness is, like any Panopticon album, heavily influenced by nature, heritage, and the world around us. But it is also more than that. This immense double disc offering explores the fire of the human spirit and our need to find a place in this world that we can truly call our home.
The concept of the album is as follows: disk one is Panopticon as we know it. Atmospheric, melodic black metal. Similar to Autumn Eternal, there are some faint, yet palpable traces of death metal here as well. Lyrically, the album focuses nature and the spiritual wellness one experiences when surrounded by it. Disk two is something new: a mostly-instrumental bluegrass folk album. Conceptually, this album details the slow but steady erasure of nature, and the draining effect urban living has on the human spirit. This is an ambitious album, and one with an important message to deliver. Without further delay, let’s discuss the nearly two hours of music Panopticon has to offer us on TSoMotONW.
Album One: The Scars of Man on the Once Nameless Wilderness, Pt. 1
It’s interesting to note that the half of this album that is dedicated to black metal is the more cheerful of the two disks. Lunn’s music has always had an uplifting quality to it, but TSoMotONW Pt. 1 is something else entirely. Songs like “En Hvit Ravns Død” and “The Singing Wilderness” have such a vivacious nature to them that you can’t help but feel alive while listening to them. Track number three, “Blåtimen,” features some impressive Windir-esque scales. I suppose that makes sense, as when I checked the album’s liner notes, I noticed that track is dedicated to Valfar of Windir. That figures.
Elsewhere, “Sheep in Wolves’ Clothing” sounds every bit as good as it did when it debuted as a Decibel flexi disk track back in 2017. It’s one of the more traditional black metal tracks on the album, with less of a focus on melody, and heavy use of cold, windswept tremolo picking. It’s perhaps the most aggressive track on either of the two disks, though it still retains that classic uplifting Panopticon sound.
On the subject of Panopticon’s sound, I want to bring up something I’ve always loved about the band: the drumming. Panopticon have a very distinct drum sound, not only in the way it’s mixed and mastered, but the drumming style itself screams “Panopticon.” Lunn has a very distinctive “tumbling” drumming style that I simply love. Even if this album was presented to me with no further context, I would know it’s Lunn’s work by the drumming alone.
The album ends on a provocative note, as “Snow Burdened Branches” opens with a heartfelt plea from Sigurd Olson for the young generation to take up his task of defending and preserving what few patches of untouched nature we have left. The track then burst into a flurry of urgent black metal riffs and pummeling blastbeats. This is the most frenzied song Panopticon have to offer on the TSoMotONW. In true Panopticon fashion, it ends with some folky acoustic instrumentation, and sampled nature sounds. An excellent end to an excellent album.
Album two: The Scars of Man on the Once Nameless Wilderness, Pt. 2
While album one hit us with a few acoustic tracks, and many folky interludes, TSoMotONW, Pt. 2 is dedicated in its entirety to the bluegrass elements of Panopticon’s music. An interesting proposition, considering this is the bleaker of the two disks. While disk one focused on man and his spiritual connection to nature, disk two deals with the symptoms of withdrawing from the natural world and the dreariness of city life.
And dreary it is. First track “The Moss Beneath the Snow” is a 12 minute dirge of sorrowful artistry. It’s a tough listen, but it weeds out the listeners who are only here for the black metal. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, mind you, but to get the full scope of what Lunn is communicating on TSoMotONW, both albums are critical.
This disc gives listeners a rare treat: we get to hear Lunn’s clean singing voice take center stage. He perhaps isn’t in possession of the strongest singing voice, but he sure knows how to work with what he has. On the first non-instrumental track “Wandering Ghost,” his gravely voice rumbles with pride and affection as he sings of tragic ends and lost spirits.
Just because this disk is the folkier of the two doesn’t mean it’s entirely acoustic. “Not Much Will Change When I’m Gone” and “A Cross Abandoned” both feature desolate electric guitar lines as well as the traditional fiddle and banjos. It’s a nice touch, and adds an extra layer of grit to the music that you wouldn’t be able to get with acoustic instruments, and Lunn is very careful to make sure the electric guitar never overwhelms the softer instruments surrounding it. Every instrument has its place in the mix, where it can stand out from the others and really allow its various subtleties and nuances to shine.
While I have less to say overall about this disc, I find it very enjoyable. It’s not often I’ll listen to pure bluegrass or folk music, but this album speaks to me in the same way all of Panopticon’s music does. This album, as with all those that came before it, is a labor of love, and that love is apparent in every note of music this massive double disc album has to offer. Lunn doesn’t just demonstrate a love for his craft, but an immense and undying love and devotion to his muse: the great forests of the north. This album, more so than any that came before it, is a love letter to the woods Lunn calls home.
Like every Panopticon album, The Scars of Man on the Once Nameless Wilderness is a triumph. A statement. A milestone, and a benchmark for black metal. While I may find myself returning to disc one more often than disk two, both are exceptional offerings of emotionally gripping music, and when taken as a whole, a monolithic example of all that black metal can be. Make no mistake, this is one of the best albums that will come out in 2018. It’s an immense offering that demands much from its listeners, but in return it will give you so very much more.