Typically, when I’m writing a review, I read up on the band — bios, interviews, press releases, anything that will help me understand where the music is coming from: its inception, its influence, its intent.
Sepulcher does not make that easy.
Just as it was in 2015 when I reviewed their first album, Mausoleum Tapestry, there’s virtually no information available about these Norwegians, no interviews, no member names, only a Facebook page that offers updates on this album (and is also in need of more likes)…
On the plus side, that forces me to focus on the only information I have, which is Mausoleum Tapestry and now Panoptic Horror itself. Ultimately, I suppose, that’s how it should be.
Panoptic Horror is similar, and yet more refined, its rawness polished off a bit. In terms of production, Panoptic Horror is simply more professional, more modern-leaning, although it’s still very much harking to a bygone day. And truthfully, those improved sonics are a double-edged sword — balanced more closely at the forefront, Sepulcher’s vocals are now more noticeably the weakest point of the band’s performance, a full-throated hardcore hollering that lends either album a punk-toned thrashiness that borders upon crossover territory. Tucked back into the maelstrom of Mausoleum Tapestry, those vocals were less prominent and thus more easily overlooked, whereas here, they’re front and center and yet lack a certain distinctive vileness or viciousness to match the relentless riffing beneath.
Still, these vocals are far from a dealbreaker, merely the weakest link in an otherwise strong approach, and Panoptic Horror thankfully compensates with a collection of equally pummeling and slicing tracks to match its elder brother. From the opening rage of “Corporeal Vessels” through the strangely dance-y intro to “Towards An Earthly Rapture” and the intertwining trad-tinted guitars of “Abyssal Horror” and beyond, Panoptic is a fun slab of retro-death / thrash homage, performed with appropriate skill and reverence. It’s not a new approach in the slightest, but it’s one that’s been proven effective, time and again, and it’s no less vital in the hands of these nameless Norwegians.
If you’re going to let your music do the talking, then your music better have something to say. Panoptic Horror says “Come with me, back to the good ol’ days, and let’s tear some shit up.” And that sounds pretty good to me.