Sean Ragon’s post-industrial project Cult of Youth has always felt hand-built, with process seemingly emphasized over product. It’s also the kind with a specific vision — and, therefore, limited room for growth. With Final Days, Ragon suggests that he might have reached that point of full realization. Starting with his self-titled Sacred Bones debut in 2011, Ragon has now completed three Cult of Youth albums in three years, drawn criticism for appropriating fascist symbolism, built his own recording studio — literally by hand — and ramped up his lineup to full-band status, adding guitarist Christian Mount, bassist Jasper McGandy, drummer Cory Flannigan, and cellist Paige Flash. All of this has led to this definitive-sounding, not-so-cryptically titled album.
The title actually refers to a dark period Ragon endured while writing the album, a phase of anxiety and existential dread so intense that he came up with the idea to start collecting human bones. So, naturally, Final Days has a large handful of the prettiest-sounding moments he has ever recorded. On “Of Amber”, violins and trumpets hum over rainy ambience, while the closing and standout track, “Roses”, builds from a soft opening of cello blending with Ragon’s deepest bellow into a heavier dismount of whirlwind noise underscoring his grittiest shriek.
Cult of Youth’s established, post-industrial niche still applies on Final Days; there’s just much more to scrape away now in every song’s mix. “Empty Faction” is a doomed driver that, when stripped of its guitar and bass riffs, is nearly identical to a certain Joy Division song, rooted in the same acoustic chords and drumbeat. Between that and the album’s true opener, “Dragon Rouge”, Final Days cements itself as Cult of Youth’s most rhythmic album: a somehow upbeat and still apocalyptic leap forward fitting of a finale, whether it ends up being one or not.
Essential Tracks: “Empty Faction”, “Roses”