Final Light – Final Light Review

Something different. In two words, that’s how I can best describe Final Light, the eponymous debut full-length from Cult of Luna’s Johannes Persson and James Kent, better known as Perturbator. From the duo’s names alone, there’s expectation—both have been a part of some powerful releases lately, in the form of The Long Road North and Lustful Sacraments respectively, but their respective styles—post-metal and synthwave—don’t exactly lend themselves to being blended together, and, for my part, I’m not a huge fan of either one. But there’s the odd exception to every rule where opinions are concerned, and Final Light is certainly one such album. Somehow, some way, Final Light takes synthwave and post-metal and merges them seamlessly, and it absolutely works.

But first, a disclaimer. It works for me because I don’t have a particular love for either style. If you love post-metal because it’s loud and aggressive or adore synthwave because it’s dreamy and contemplative, you’re in for a rough ride here. Final Light essentially takes the form of a post-metal album, if you can imagine all rhythm guitars replaced with heavily distorted synthesizers. Persson’s guitars and roars help to sharpen and focus the music, but the guitars in particular are mere accents. If you’re looking for an example that’s more metal than synth, “The Fall of a Giant” is it, huge and menacing and leaning more heavily into Persson’s riffs than any other track. Meanwhile, “Final Light” is a super synth-driven, but not less angry—and it’s this unique blend of elegant rage that makes Final Light such an intriguing listen.

Final Light by Final Light

At least, that’s part of it. The other part is simply that the styles are blended so well that it almost doesn’t matter what you prefer, because the bleak, suffocating dark imbued within this record is relayed so effectively. “It Came with the Water” uses minimalistic leads atop a dread backdrop of distortion to build shimmering, dismaying soundscapes that are very memorable. All throughout Final Light, the wandering synths, used so effectively to give the album its otherworldly qualities, are held tightly in check by throaty roars and furious guitars that give the album a nevertheless grounded feel. As a result, it’s hard to think of Final Light as anything other than a metal project. The lack of rhythm guitars does surprisingly little to rob the songs of their heaviness—indeed, on my first listen of the album, it took an embarrassingly long time for me to clue in that there almost weren’t any (in my defence, there were no headphones involved).

The fusion of styles that gives Final Light its awesome identity does come with a couple of drawbacks, and it’s a testament to the songwriting on the album that they don’t bother me much. The first is the low dynamic range score for the album, 4, reflected in the suffocating master used to enhance the album’s droning, almost doom-like feel. A little more room for the synths to breathe would have been nice for sure—on the other hand, the end of “Ruin to Decay” is so crushing for it that it’s hard to feel too disappointed in the choice. Secondly, the aggression of the album is strongly rooted in Johannes Persson’s roars, which means when they aren’t present, there’s a tendency for the music to wander, as is the case in the first half of both “Nothing Will Bear Your Name” and “Ruin to Decay.” In these moments, it becomes clear that Final Light would work a lot less effectively as a work of pure synthwave, and a little extra editing might have gone a long way here. Still, even without that added focus, the build up in “Nothing Will Bear Your Name” is very well done, and if the album could benefit from more editing, it doesn’t need all that much more than it has.

Final Light did not need long to win me over. Overwhelmingly bleak, crushingly beautiful, and angry to a compelling degree, I have found a great deal to love about Final Light’s debut. Even its relative weaknesses are weaponized to some degree, and every song here is interesting at its worst and majestic at its best. I sincerely hope this is not a one-off collaboration, but the first of many lights to come. Either way, I’ll be getting lost in this one often. Synthwave and post-metal. Who knew?

Rating: 3.5/5.0
DR: 4 | Format Reviewed: 224 kbps mp3
Label: Red Creek Recordings
Releases Worldwide: June 24th, 2022

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