The entire planet has been issued an ultimatum by the United Nations, the elderly are getting arrested for the crime of feeding the homeless, and a guy who campaigned on this is about to become Senate majority leader. Which is to say: the past two weeks have amounted to a perfect marketing rollout strategy for Final Days, the fourth and most cataclysmic album to date from Brooklyn post-industrial prophet Sean Ragon and his swelling Cult of Youth congregation. Since debuting in 2007 as a solo acoustic mission, Ragon has been gradually adding more members, not to just elaborate upon his neofolk-rooted sound, but to seemingly recruit soldiers for war. But on Final Days, he’s not so much fighting to save the planet as our collective sense of empathy—because without the latter, the former is essentially doomed.
From day one, Cult of Youth songs have followed a similar structural trajectory—solitary acoustic strums introduce Ragon’s sonorous croon, before his playing turns incrementally intense and his voice explodes into a self-immolating shriek. What’s changed over the years is his means of getting there. On 2012’s Love Will Prevail, the addition of drummer Glenn Maryansky and violinist Christiana Key helped smooth the journey from calm to chaos, and seemed to channel Ragon’s rage into positive change; on that album’s penultimate track, “To Lay With the Wolves”, he even signed off by declaring, “I fell in love/ In love with the world.” But, following a crippling bout of paranoia and a brutal street beating that left him hobbled for months, Ragon’s faith in humanity was destroyed anew. So while Final Days showcases a newly expanded five-piece chamber-punk formation—electric-guitarist Christian Kount, bassist Jasper McGandy, cellist Paige Flash, and drummer Cory Flannigan—it proves to be a much gnarlier, nastier record than its predecessor. Rather than continue the sophisticating process introduced on Love Will Prevail, Final Days answers Ragon’s righteous indignation with the tsunami-sized sonic maelstrom it’s always been begging for.
True to its wide-screened scope, Final Days unfolds like a film told in flashback, with the eerie opening soundscape “Todestrieb” presenting a desolate, post-apocalyptic scene (instrumentation includes a cannibalistic symphony of “human skull” and “bodies”, with some guest molestation courtesy of Iceage’s Elias Bender Rønnenfelt) that the subsequent vocal-driven songs subtly inch us toward. And just as a track like “Dragon Rouge” gradually builds from deceptively idyllic folk-song overture toward a cataclysmic, string-screeching climax, so too does Final Days’ sequence as a whole, frontloading more concentrated blasts of fury to set up the more imposing, expansive set pieces of the album’s second act.
For Ragon, the road to hell is paved with grave intentions: domineering organized religions, morally bankrupt politicians, resource-depleting multinational corporations. But his mythic, allegorical language transcends the trappings of finger-wagging protest folk, giving songs like “No Regression” and the stormy, nine-minute “Sanctuary” the biblically charged vigor of late-’80s Bad Seeds. And by dealing in folkloric metaphor rather than name names, Ragon’s able to focus his ire on the real enemy: the insidious apathy toward the Machiavallien machinations that transpire in the corridors of power. As the percussive onslaught of “Sanctuary” hits its feedbacked fever pitch, Ragon repeats the mantra “some of us are scared to death of things the rest ignored,” a dispiriting acknowledgment that his enraged invective won’t get through to the people that need to hear it the most; in this bleak light, the windswept shanty “Roses” feels less like an optimistic sign of life in the cracks of the pavement than a wilted bouquet left at the gravesite of humanity. But as a now happily married Ragon recently revealed to Noisey, immersing yourself in such a despairing headspace can prove oddly therapeutic and invigorating—and, likewise, Final Days’ exhilarating, cathedral-toppling spectacle could prove to be the career game-changer that ensures his band remains a cult no more.
from Album Reviews – Pitchfork http://ift.tt/10UaRzE