Originally billed as a one-time project (although happily recent interviews may suggest that if the planets align correctly this could prove inaccurate), the genesis of Final Light came about when Roadburn creator Walter Hoeijmakers approached James Kent (Perturbator) to undertake a commission piece for the festival in 2020. The brief was to produce an hour of music with an artist of his choosing. Due to the COVID pandemic, the festival never took place and so, after two long years of waiting, this year’s attendees were treated to this one of a kind experience.
Kent, having played guitar in several black metal bands has made his name since 2012 through cyberpunk inspired synthwave electronic music that has traversed boundaries and won fans of all walks of the heavier spectrum. His immediate pick for a collaborating artist was Cult Of Luna’s gravel throated Johannes Persson; given the crossover between his own expansive work and the Swedish band’s ability to create atmospheric, challenging compositions that channel light and shade in equal measure.
Despite never having met until a few months before the originally intended festival, both artists shared an admiration for each other and as the work began on the project, it was clear that Final Light had grown into something special, and that far from just being a special live experience deserved to be captured on record to be shared beyond the intimacy of four thousand rabid music fanatics in Tilburg.
Drenched in the vaunted atmospherics associated with both artists, the project is very much the promised exploration of emotional, ethereal dynamics and their use in making stirring and captivating music.
Very much a piece of sonic art, the compositions are largely epic length examinations of sound and atmosphere with only two coming in under the seven-minute mark. Each movement is seemingly laser focused on creating something that stands alone and yet works in the wider context of the piece, which Kent was originally toying with making a singular piece of music.
Nothing Will Bare Your Name starts softly with plaintive siren like synths and pulsing bass creeping into your consciousness like the gathering of a faraway storm. The track swells adding flavour and subtle variations of notes like slowly shifting sand revealing hidden treasures before fading, then crashing back with Persson’s trademark vocals howling and pleading. The electronic stabs rise and fall around it like a wave transitioning to jackhammer dance beats that pound home the power summoned by the music.
The second longest track and possibly the finest on the album, In The Void, begins with sweeping Vangelis (RIP) like scores, conjuring a slow motion aerial view of a dystopian landscape before the heavy, jittering beats add that uneasy cyberpunk edge and once more the vocals lend an urgency and desperation to the marching progression. As the dark bass tones creep towards the pummelling second half, it is easy to see why Kent’s vision was influenced by Cult Of Luna. In the claustrophobia, moments of cathartic elation break out like the sun piercing through threatening thunder clouds.
This moody swing between lurching bends and light, juxtaposing notes that contrast with the strangled guttural vocals continues on It Came With The Water. Here the slide into darkness continues with menacing undertones from the droning, pulsing power of the harder post-metal guitars, and the ringing touches are twisted like some nightmare dream state as the floating moments of contemplation are dragged under the surface, bringing about a feeling of dread befitting the title.
releasing this as an album was an essential move…
Against this backdrop, there are moments of hope and the title track, Final Light, on the surface, feels such. The uplifting electronics seem to win in their battle against the bleak six-string and even work to help raise the spirits, chugging and propelling forward, rather than suffocating. This song in particular feels like a fight for survival that cuts through, despite the aggressive tone offering relief, before they dominate on The Fall Of A Giant.
Seemingly more organic than the preceding numbers, there is a lush tone that runs through this towering track that bristles with the combining strengths of both artists simultaneously on equal footing, neither giving ground to the others. If anything came close to being a ballad on this unique album, it would be here, if not for the immense feeling of restrained power that permeates from start to finish.
Ending with the impassioned and monstrous Ruin To Decay, which unbelievably manages to up the ante for tension, Final Light toy with your emotions expertly for the final act.
The muted beginning to this epic conclusion starts with meandering electronics and searching guitar, like a futuristic Yawning Man, before a thrumming beat, like sci-fi attack helicopters, heralds the crushingly heavy march that twists the listener back and forth like a weathervane caught in a buffeting storm.
Final Light is no doubt a special album that may not be repeated, even if the collaborators wanted to. Straddling the worlds between ‘80s throwback sounds of synthwave and the aggression of post-metal, the vision created here is bleak, even oppressive at times, and yet strangely compelling.
The raw power of both elements lends this album an alien quality that can often appear cold and otherworldly, yet they blend together to work somehow. Persson’s vocals bring focus and a raw soul to the music as he spits lyrics soaked in anger and sorrow showing his continual development, something I also noted on the last Cult Of Luna album.
This doom like message from beyond won’t be for everyone with its split personality of drifting bliss and suffocating intensity as it requires several listens to appreciate the depth of what is going on, and for that reason, whilst it must have been a spectacular thing to witness, releasing this as an album was an essential move.
Scribed by: Mark Hunt-Bryden