Having heard neither band before delving into this enlightening split EP, Vesitges and Panopticon certainly defied all preconceived notions I had of them; I expected both bands would follow the path of fellow US nature-lovers Wolves in the Throne Room and, while to a certain extent I was right, what I got instead was something far more moving than I could have imagined.
What is most striking about this release is how it serves as a testament to how far US black metal has come from its European-worshipping beginnings. The style was pioneered with cold, harsh and nihilistic features and early American acts merely attempted to imitate this without much success. Only recently has the US begun to find its voice within the genre, utilising elements they are far more comfortable with. On the Vestiges/Panopticon Split, these elements take the form of hardcore, crust-punk, sludge metal and post-rock.
Instead of having black metal at the heart of their sound, both groups play a passionate and emotional brand of atmospheric post-hardcore, with the blastbeats and tremolo picking serving only to compliment and inflate the chaos and desperation. Vestiges open proceedings with effectively one long, epic track divided across two. Moving between fast-paced aggression and slow, doomy dirges, with breathtaking post-rock and ambient sections that bring to mind the beautifully evocative album art, Vestiges have created one of the most hypnotic and genuinely satisfying tracks I have heard in a long time.
If that wasn’t enough, Panopticon’s side of the split is just as good, if not better. The tracks can perhaps best be described as ‘anthemic’, which is not usually a word one would associate with black metal, but again it’s the hardcore and punk influences that shine through. The execution is at its finest on “A Letter”, an emotional and memorable track that brings together all of the most notable features of the record with precision. “The Eulogy” is another excellent piece that falls more on the post-rock side of things, with an oddly uplifting atmosphere similar to that found on Deafheaven’s post-black masterpiece Sunbather. The last track is a cover of Suicide Nation’s “Collapse and Die” and I personally feel that the EP could have done without this one. It is by no means a bad version of the song, great as a standalone piece actually, but it detracts from the general mood and tone of the release too much for my liking.
Ultimately, split releases serve as introductions to the more complete works of the artists involved. Vestiges and Panopticon have done just that, while simultaneously creating a cohesive EP that transcends the sum of its parts.
1. Vestiges – VII
2. Vestiges – VIII
3. Panopticon – A Letter
4. Panopticon – The Eulogy
5. Panopticon – Collapse & Die