Music Reviews

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Artist: White Shadow (@)
Title: Panopticon
Format: CD
Label: self-released
Rated: *****
It's been a while since I've heard anything from Baltimore-based Industrial-Metal outfit White Shadow. I reviewed their 'The Wastelands' album back in 2010 and found it a so-so affair. I never heard their 2012 EP, 'Zugzwang', but 'Panopticon' is definitely a big leap
forward from what I heard previously. While DXNero (vocals, synth & drum programming) is still the ringmaster in this cyanide circus of sound, the band lineup now consists of Kryptych (bass, guitars, guitar synth, drum & synth programming); Nytro (guitars); Wahkeen (sound design, additional programming) and Marowit (live drums). On this recording there are additional performances by Crawford (bass), and Julia Beach (piano on "Six Months of Sundays").

'Panopticon' is a concept album based on 18th century English philosopher Jeremy Bentham's conceptual prison by the same name. For the unfamiliar, the idea behind the design was to allow a single watchman to observe all the inmates of an institution without the inmates being able to tell whether or not they are being watched. Through the paranoia of not knowing whether or not one was being observed, the inmate would be forced to conform, being on their best behavior at all times. Bentham himself described the Panopticon as "a new mode of obtaining power of mind over mind, in a quantity hitherto without example." The concept itself is a timely one in this age of ever-growing detention and surveillance. The album opens strong with "Slipgate", roaring with the power of a locomotive (and interjected "HEY"s) DXNero spits out the lyrics with machine-gun precision (something he's really good at) and muscular guitars provide fuel for the engine. The song goes through some changes- a quiet break with acoustic guitars and calmer vocals (progressive for an Industrial Metal group), alt-metal, then back to the locomotive. Very dynamic and creative. "The Fix is In" keeps this train chugging along nicely with heavy slabs of industrial guitar chords and nifty synth work. A very cool tune filled with appropriate malice and anger. (Something else DXNero is very good at.) "Zugwang" is another powerhouse number with
a great chorus hook - "Zugwang"- if we want to live, We all know something's got to give, Zugwang - even if it hurts, It's the only choice I know will work..." Next track "Crowd [Control}" continues the on-target assault, albeit with a few twists in the quieter passages. DXNero comes across with an appropriate amount of nastiness and it's kind of reminiscent of Disturbed here, maybe with a touch of Reznor. "I Don't Know Who I Am" features more engaging synth, and intersperses the metal aspect of the song with some more thoughtful and progressive passages. "10,000 Masks" alternates machinegun metal with less hyper and more melodic movements. Good hook too. The effected transitional piece "Ingress" offers a spoken word PSA in the Panopticon before you actually get into the title track, which is the first installment of a three part Suite. Some slidey guitar alludes a little to Pink Floyd in a brief instrumental break, but don't expect Mr. Gilmore. Part 2 of the
Suite, "Six Months of Sunday" is a piano-based confessional ballad, but DXNero's voice is all wrong for this track; he comes across as whiny and pathetic. Perhaps that was the intention but it's painful to listen to. Part 3 - "Cold Ground" is low key but somewhat better than the preceding track. It becomes obvious that DXNero is at his best with a full head of steam as opposed to trying to evoke pathos. "Egress" is another brief ambient transitional track leading into "Addicted to Despair". I feel a little ambivalent about this one; it has a quirky rhythmic groove, but the vocals are problematic. Some of it is
crooned in that typical alt metal style, some manic, and some rapped. I'm getting a NuMetal vibe here and for me, it took a bit of the wind out of the sails. It all ends with "Temple" and by this time I'm a bit fatigued, and it's showing in the music too.

At times White Shadow conjures up the best of what I recall of Stabbing Westward; a band with some great tracks and a lot of potential. 'Panopticon' kicks off with a bang and blazes through six dynamite tracks. After that though, it falters. Still, that's quite an achievement in my book. In an oblique way, DXNero does manage to carry off the panopticon concept, but still the songs stand on their own without being weighted down by said concept. I don't think the same could be said of most other rock concept albums.



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