Impressions: Perturbator – Lustful Sacrements

Perturbator, Lustful Sacraments (Blood Music 2021)

I’ve heard people refer to the darker side of synthwave as “darkwave.” The name makes intuitive sense – take synthwave, make it darker, end up with darkwave. Problem is, darkwave already refers to a style of music, one that’s been around since the early 1980s. Basically, take New Wave, make it darker, end up with darkwave. (Or you could think of it as a fusion of goth and New Wave.) The darker side of synthwave is more properly referred to as darksynth.

Muddying the waters, one of darksynth’s pioneers and most celebrated practitioners, Perturbator (aka James Kent), has just released an album that’s heavily indebted to ’80s darkwave and other descendants of post-punk. He’s not the first one to do this – there’s an active scene within and bordering on synthwave, which includes bands like Drab Majesty and (my friends) Vandal Moon and Czarina. But Lustful Sacraments doesn’t really sound like anything else I’ve heard.

Really the album feels both like a departure and a natural extension of Kent’s previous work. His early work had a distinct cyberpunk vibe, which then shifted toward the synth/metal hybrid sound that has come to define darksynth. Kent was one of the biggest and most accomplished practitioners of the style, but at the very height of the sound’s popularity, he shifted directions and released the industrial-influenced album New Model. I found it interesting and very sophisticated from a production standpoint, but it didn’t quite resonate with me.

Lustful Sacraments is different – I’ve always had a passion for dark ’80s music, so this is very much in my personal wheelhouse. And Lustful Sacraments, to me, is the most retro-sounding album Kent has released since 2014’s Dangerous Days. It’s just retro in a way most synthwave isn’t.

What I most admire about Kent is how subtly daring he can be with arrangements. Most pop/rock and dance music is formulaic, albeit in different ways (a distinction I’ve written about previously). This is because the formulas are highly functional in the sense that they both satisfy listener expectations and make life easier for the artist. But Kent’s songs typically eschew the tropes of traditional part- or pattern-based arrangements. They often build and release tension in unexpected ways, and include little flourishes that aren’t intuitive for the average producer (or even the above-average producer). I’ve always found these moments thrilling, and they are especially so on this album.

Bottom line, Lustful Sacraments is a bold and unique offering that doesn’t really sound or feel like synthwave or darksynth but still feels connected to earlier Perturbator material. Highly recommended.

You can purchase the album here:

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