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The past few years have made the double-edged nature of technology abundantly clear. Maybe it's these dystopian vibes or the changes imposed by COVID, which forced artists stuck at home to consider new ways of making music, but the metal world is reacting. From sci-fi concepts to electronic flourishes to meditations on climate change, the genre is brimming with warnings about the dangers of excessive human progress.
Into this bleak landscape shines Final Light. At its core a collaboration between Cult of Luna frontman Johannes Persson and Perturbator mastermind James Kent, Final Light is a lurching homunculus on bionic legs. The band's self-titled debut is a massive piece of industrial metal that thrills. Perhaps more importantly, it justifies its own existence as something more than a tossed-off collaboration between two big names, with Perturbator and Persson each living up to their own lofty songwriting standards.
Final Light is epic in scope. This applies both to its hour-long runtime and the ambition of its contents. Colossal rhythms and synthetic surfaces glisten with little details like sparks from failing machines. Each song is densely layered and carefully produced, with echoing sounds skittering through the background while Persson's riffs assert their presence.
Much like Cult of Luna captivate with albums possessed by a clear narrative arc, Final Light manage to do the same, with tracks like "the Fall of a Giant" that sound like soundtracks unto themselves. It's not hard to imagine these songs as a score for some sort of interstellar battle. For longtime fans of the Swedish post-metal masters, tracks like "In the Void" are reminiscent of Cult of Luna's Vertikal by way of Blade Runner, with Persson's titanic growl and churning chords barreling forward through a tunnel of Perturbator's mid-tempo synthscapes. This is a huge record in every sense.
In fact, it's so mighty that it begs the question as to why Persson and Perturbator hadn't collaborated sooner. Final Light was conceived in 2019, just before the pandemic shut live music down. Organizers of the Netherlands-based heavy music retreat, Roadburn Festival, approached Perturbator about creating a commissioned work for the 2020 edition, and the French musician immediately thought Persson would be the perfect match. Both artists appreciated one another's work, and Perturbator says the similar scale of their music (Perturbator's 2021 opus Lustful Sacraments is a slab of timeless, industrial-tinged cold-wave) made them a natural collaborative pairing.
The pandemic gave both musicians time to craft something aspirational, and after being delayed twice due to COVID-19, they were finally able to bring Final Light to life for Roadburn attendees earlier this year — with the help of two live drummers and a carefully crafted light show. Though this onstage version of Final Light was intended as a one-off, both Perturbator and Persson feel there's more material there — they just have to find the time to make it happen.
SO, I UNDERSTAND THIS STARTED AT ROADBURN PRE-PANDEMIC. WHAT GOT YOU TALKING, AND WHAT FED INTO THIS RECORD AS YOU BEGAN WORKING TOGETHER?
PERTURBATOR The collaboration started because Walter [Hoeijmakers], the lead guy from Roadburn, approached me and asked me if I was down to do a commissioned piece with an artist of my choosing. I was down for it. He said it would be exclusively for Roadburn, an hour of music that I make with any artist. I thought about Cult of Luna immediately for various reasons, the first one being that I love their music. I think we have a lot of things in common, musically speaking, even though we work with different styles of music. We have sort of a thing that links us, the atmospheres and stuff. Also, I had just met with Johannes a couple of months before in Stockholm because he came to see one of my shows. And we hit it off pretty good.
WHAT DID EACH OF YOU FIND IN THE OTHER'S MUSICAL WORK THAT INSPIRED YOU?
PERTURBATOR I've always been a big fan of soundtracks. I started Perturbator because I love movie soundtracks. You know, John Carpenter, Vangelis, Tangerine Dream, Goblin, and stuff like this. For me, my music is less about beats and dancey stuff. I don't want to make people dance necessarily. I want to capture a mood and a vibe. And Cult of Luna does that in spades. I've been a fan for a while. Each track is a story, and I love that.
PERSSON Likewise, I was a fan of James even before I met him. I can't remember when I got introduced to his music — probably through my manager and friend Alexei. I'm a huge fan of electronic music. Just as James said, the way I've been approaching writing has been storytelling for as long as I can remember. I don't really work with the usual song structures. I have such a wide taste in music, and I've tried to pinpoint what the common denominator is.
The thread through everything is it has some bleakness, a dystopian vibe to it. I am a big fan of soundtracks, Vangelis being one of the masters, and James's music definitely has that vibe and narrative to it. I just love his music, and him asking me was a big honor. I said "yes" on the spot.
GIVEN THE RHYTHMIC ARCHITECTURE HERE, I'M GUESSING YOU DID QUITE A LOT OF THE ASSEMBLY, JAMES. HOW DID YOU WORK METAL RIFFS INTO THESE SPACEY FRAMEWORKS?
PERTURBATOR It was kind of easy, actually, for some reason. It came naturally because, first of all, I already did a remix of Cult of Luna before for their song "Cygnus" on their album Mariner with Julie Christmas. It was so interesting for me to work with guitar parts, the bass, Johannes's vocals, and just sort of like turn it into a song that would be very much like what I would make. This mix of electronic and metal. I feel like a lot of people do it very clumsily, if I can say that. I wanted to just have it feel like it belongs there, like the riffs belong in this track, the screaming vocals, growls, whatever belong in those tracks.
JOHANNES, I KNOW CULT OF LUNA ARE PROLIFIC COLLABORATORS. COULD YOU PICTURE THESE KINDS OF ELECTRONIC TEXTURES MAKING THEIR WAY INTO FUTURE CULT OF LUNA RELEASES, OR IS THIS PROJECT THE EXPRESSION OF SOMETHING SEPARATE?
PERSSON The problem with my writing is I'm a prisoner in my own skull. I do more projects than Cult of Luna and Final Light, but I can only do what I do. Going into this, I had no idea what we were going to do… If I remember correctly, we met up Paris, and James was like, "Do you have anything?" and I dug up a few riffs from the vault that I had worked on. He took them, he created something which is really quite wild when you think of it. I gave him one or two riffs, and a couple weeks later, James came up with a whole song based around those, a totally legit arrangement.
When it comes to me writing stuff for the music James wrote, that's the weird thing about creativity — I hear something, and something else pops up. It was 100 percent for this project. Whether or not you can hear too much of whatever I'm doing in other projects, I don't know or care. This is for Final Light. I was 100 percent focused on this project. And hopefully, I brought something new that I haven't done before, which is quite hard when you've been writing music for 25 years.
PERTURBATOR You did!
MANY OF US KNOW ABOUT WORKING REMOTELY NOW BECAUSE OF COVID. AS FAR AS MUSIC SPECIFICALLY, WHAT DO YOU BOTH FEEL ARE THE ADVANTAGES AND DISADVANTAGES OF WORKING LIKE THIS?
PERTURBATOR The thing is, I'm very used to working alone and very isolated in my home studio. All of the albums as Perturbator were basically written in my room, in my little home studio — it's a weird feeling. I'm pretty sure it's very different from what Johannes is used to. When the pandemic happened, it sucked, because we couldn't play this project as soon as we wanted to play it, but at the same time, it didn't change a thing for me. It was just like, OK, I'm still home, I still have those tracks, I can always open my software, and I could still work on them now. It's always something I can change; I can always go back to it pretty much the same way I do with Perturbator albums. I felt right at home — it's almost like I didn't even see the pandemic, except when I was going outside to get groceries or whatever. When COVID started, I just got more time to work on more music, basically.
PERSSON For me, the process I'm used to is quite different, but also not, because for many years Cult of Luna has been scattered — at one point across various countries, but now in various cities. So when I write, usually, I just do drafts on my computer, but the song doesn't happen until we all meet up together. The process of writing at home is not at all distant to me — I feel comfortable with that. The only difference with this is the songs sound much more ready, because they are, basically.
Just sitting at home at the dinner table with my guitar and computer, writing stuff over it, was not that weird to me… It was actually easier because with Cult of Luna, everything's a bit of a chance. The songs very far from ready when we meet up and start writing in the studio, but with James, it was almost too easy — after first day or two, we had songs that, in retrospect, weren't finished, but they felt close to finished.
WHAT WAS IT LIKE FINALLY GETTING TO PLAY TOGETHER AT ROADBURN THIS YEAR?
PERTURBATOR It was great. It was really awesome. I was pretty nervous going onstage because of all the tension that built up before the show. I really felt like this show was a one-time thing. We were working on it with Johannes and also Medhi and Dylan, the two drummers, and the light engineer — we were all working on this thing for so much time, and it had to be played on this day, at this time, and nobody knew what it would sound like, what it would be like, so there was a lot of pressure. But it felt really good to go onstage and present it.
PERSSON It took a lot of work getting there. We met up and played together — and also I need to mention meeting Dylan and Mehdi, our two drummers, added another positive layer to the whole experience — and I felt good leaving that rehearsal. But every set I fucked up something, which actually added a bit to that nervousness, so I didn't know how to feel getting onstage [at Roadburn], and it took me half the show until I realized I hadn't done that in two years, and not only that, I had never done that with these people. It just felt natural from the first second. The enjoyment of being onstage, the excitement of getting up with new friends, that was very refreshing. It's not every day I get to have that new experience. It was very rewarding to say the least.
PERTURBATOR Going offstage when we finished the show was incredible for me. It felt really good. I think we all took each other in our arms and were like, "Guys, we fucking made it." It was a very good feeling. We were friends from the get-go, but now it was almost like we were a real band. It felt legit.
THIS MUSIC DEFINITELY HAS A CINEMATIC SENSIBILITY. JOHANNES, I KNOW YOU'VE BEEN INVOLVED IN FILM. WHAT WENT INTO THE VISUAL COMPONENTS FOR THIS PROJECT?
PERSSON We had a pretty deep discussion about how we wanted to present the band, and I have thought for years — and we've put a lot of effort in with Cult of Luna — that artwork of an album sets the stage for how it will be perceived. I think it changes the way you listen to the music. Just imagine this album being totally green — like a Sleep cover. You would not listen to it the same way. When it comes to a live situation, we put a lot of effort into lighting. Actually getting onstage and getting to see the whole light setup was amazing. It looked perfect. When it came to artwork, we talked a lot and tried some directions that didn't work.
PERTURBATOR We tried some painting, some organic stuff. It didn't work. The visual aspect is really important. I remember the lighting at Roadburn, the light show we had was a bit of a surprise for all of us. I got to know the light engineer just the day before the show, and he showed me a 3-D rendering of what the show would look like on his computer, and it looked awesome. We had a very specific sort of vibe anyway going into this. Very monochromatic, very black and white, sort of like digital art mixed with abstract visuals and stuff like this. It worked. It was crazy to see the videos of the show at Roadburn… when I saw that I was like, "This looks fucking awesome."
PERSSON I was almost bummed we were onstage and not offstage watching it.
WHAT'S COMING DOWN THE ROAD FOR YOU BOTH AS FINAL LIGHT AND WITH YOUR INDIVIDUAL PROJECTS?
PERTURBATOR For me, it's a lot of shows. I don't have anything in the works as Perturbator. I'm kind of taking a little break from everything because I've worked on a lot of music lately. I'm not taking a holiday, but I'm just focusing on the live show, focusing on playing in many different cities and just getting back to normal life as a touring artist. As for Final Light, I really do want to expand upon it, do more of it, but as we always say, it's gonna depend on our schedules, whether Johannes is available, I'm available, Medhi is available. It's definitely something I'd love to do more of.
PERSSON In terms of me, I'm shooting this movie, and then we're off doing some tours. I could probably just copy-paste James's answer. I've been writing so much and been recording for the last couple of years. I did [Cult of Luna albums] A Dawn to Fear and The Long Road North… I feel that I need to focus my creativity somewhere else for a while to be able to get back into it again with fresh eyes. I think both me and James are keen to do more, but it's all about finding time and all that. I've been writing to other artists as well — I had to pause that because the pre-production of films takes a lot of time. When you have kids and a job and a family — I mean, the day only has 24 hours, and I'm working 20 of them.