Claiming an album is an artist’s most mature seems like a cliché at this point, but it’s hard to find a better word to describe Perturbator’s latest album Lustful Sacraments.
Once a figurehead of the emerging retrowave scene, James “Pertubator” Kent left behind the neon-tinged nostalgia of retrowave in favor of the oppressive and brooding sounds of industrial, post-punk and hard techno. Gone also, are the celebration and exploitation of pop culture tropes, or the inner monologues of serial killers. Lustful Sacraments delves straight into the toxic cycles of excess, dissatisfaction and addiction that run through modern life.
If 2017’s New Model marked a drastic stylistic turn, Lustful Sacraments is a more nuanced and subtle statement, one that expands upon many of the ideas present in earlier works, while still bringing a plethora of new elements. The intricate walls of sound, soaring melodies and pummeling electronic percussion that have always been hallmarks of the French producer’s sound are augmented by reverb-laden guitars and no less than four different singers.
The thundering bass drones and techno beats of opening duo “Reaching Xanadu” and “Lustful Sacraments” give way to infectious post-punk grooves and catchy choruses that harken back to Killing Joke on “Excess” and “Secret Devotion.” On the opposite end of the spectrum, the album’s antepenultimate track “Messalina, Messalina” alternates between ominous ambiences and powerful waves of distorted synths to create a musical climax that’s closer to post metal than the music of John Carpenter. Yet, for all its meanders and disparate elements, this is a remarkably cohesive album, with excellent flow and focus.
As expected from Perturbator at this point, the production is almost flawless, with intricate soundscapes, satisfying punch and crisp, colorful mixes. This is Perturbator’s most vocal album, with only four instrumentals, which makes the treatment of the vocals all the more saddening. They are often buried in the mix and poorly enunciated, making it arduous to understand the lyrics.
Maniac 2121’s crooning and bellowing (“Excess” and “Dethroned Under a Funeral Haze”) reinforces the post-punk vibes, while True Body’s sultry tones on “Secret Devotion” carry one of the record’s most memorable melodies. Belial’s mutterings, on the other hand, are so buried in the mix of “Death of The Soul” that they could just as well not be there at all, while Hangman’s Chair delivers a majestic performance on the sublime closer “God Says”, ending the record on an extremely strong moment.
Conjuring crushing nihilism while still letting a glimmer of hope shine through, delving into the depths of depravation to carve moments of sublime beauty, this record will take you in a world of concrete, steel and broken glass, and wrap you in a cold and reassuring embrace. Few artists can successfully blend such a wide variety of genres without it ever feeling derivative or forced. With nary a poor song and some bona fide bangers (“Messalina,” “Excess” and “God Says” come to mind), Lustful Sacraments shows Perturbator at the top of his craft, freed from the constraints of a scene he helped define.
(released May 28, 2021 on Blood Music)
Heavy Music HQ Rating:
Watch Perturbator – “Death Of The Soul” Video