An unconvincing imitation of ’80s goth and post-punk
More than most artists, James Kent (AKA Perturbator) proudly wears his influences on his sleeve. Look no further than his album covers and it should immediately become clear that Kent loves his 1980s science-fiction films—and, of course, their synth-based soundtracks. From Blade Runner to John Carpenter’s The Thing, he lives and breathes this stuff—and he wants people to know it.
In his latest release, Lustful Sacraments, Kent retains his blatant affection for ‘80s culture while treading new aesthetic ground. For once, science-fiction is cast aside in favor of goth and post-punk. The film score influence is still apparent in the ambient interludes that adorn this record, but overall, Lustful Sacraments is like something one would hear in a subterranean industrial club instead of a trashy cinema.
This will excite fans of groups like The Cure and Killing Joke, but be warned, the album starts out with promise but quickly starts to sound samey, which becomes increasingly obvious that Kent relied on a comfortable songwriting formula for the bulk of these tracks: arpeggiated guitar lines and smokey synths on top of some muffled vocals, followed by ambient interlude after ambient interlude. Rinse and repeat. The result is an extremely predictable listening experience, and a paint-by-numbers take on ‘80s goth music that fails to breathe new life into the aesthetic.
Sure, “breathing new life” into this stuff probably isn’t Kent’s objective. He’s all about wearing his influences on his sleeve, after all. But even if Lustful Sacraments is supposed to be a pastiche, then it’s not a very convincing one. Kent sounds like he’s holding back, never quite matching the best qualities of the music he strives to imitate. “Death of the Soul,” for instance, doesn’t even come close to generating the same level of excitement as Pretty Hate Machine, to which it is clearly indebted—instead of making people want to dance, it nearly puts one to sleep with its phoned-in vocals and lack of a hook. And “The Other Place” sounds like a Depeche Mode instrumental left on the cutting room floor.
Granted, there are a few exceptions. The fervent drive and fist-pumping vocal hook on “Excess” evoke Joy Division at their punkiest, and “Secret Devotion” features a romantic melody that recalls the best parts of the Sisters of Mercy’s Floodland. These tracks stick to the album’s formula as much as the others, but they get by on the fact that they’re much stronger songs.
“Messalina, Messalina” starts to break the sonic monotony with a downright nasty synth sound and filthier guitars to boot. Here, it finally sounds like Kent is taking things a step further and pushing the boundaries he set for himself. And it’s doubly rewarding when the track erupts into an engulfing, miasmatic climax after the song’s expected ambient interlude, instead of merely falling apart like the preceding track, “Dethroned Under a Funeral Haze.” It’s too bad he saves it for the album’s very end.
Lustful Sacraments isn’t an unlikeable record, and diehard fans of its aesthetic will find value in it, but for everyone else, it probably won’t satisfy. There are just too many weak cuts for it to be consistently enjoyable, and it isn’t long before listeners start to wish that Kent would take on a less formulaic approach. Those icy synths and sepulchral guitar lines are only novel for so long. Unless you’re an avid goth—in which case, this one’s for you.