This is already the fifth album from Tristan Shone’s “one-man industrial doom project”, but is surely the highest-profile to date.
With London gallery and club dates, plus a European tour (now a rare event for American-based noise artists), AUTHOR & PUNISHER is receiving a lot of attention and not just for the spectacular cyborg apparatus through which he performs live.
His custom-built equipment, inspired by robotics, demands serious physical exertion from its operator, something that explains the rasping, laboured nature of many of the sounds.
Some of the tour venues and some of the London audiences could be enough to put this on a hipster noise watchlist, but in this case the music’s current fashionability isn’t an indicator of a shallow or meaningless flirtation with noise. In Shone’s own words: “AUTHOR & PUNISHER’s newest sonic endeavor [sic] combines elements of both machines and more traditional apparati to stretch and blur the dynamic palette from doom to industrial, to heavy bass music, and back again.”
What Shone is doing is not just a sonic but a physical mutation, literally giving body to the late 1980s cyberpunk Tetsuo aesthetics. In fact, the music is more subtle and even romantic than this would lead you to expect. There’s always a risk with this type of post-Nine Inch Nails angst-ridden noise that it becomes just too whiney and ultimately comic – you can easily imagine a suburban brat screaming over some Garage Band sound effects “My mom said I couldn’t go, I wanted to, it’s not fair!”.
The album opens with the title track, which infiltrates slowly using dark chords, cold warning sounds and oppressively slow and tense percussion. Heavily delayed and surprisingly high vocals gradually seep in, bringing a touch of Nine Inch Nails but darker and more drawn out. It’s only after three and a half minutes that the first metal chords crash through. Even then don’t fully develop immediately but when they do it’s pretty crushing.
‘In Remorse’ crashes into a conventional song structure very abruptly, it’s elegantly melodic, a little in the vein of Justin Broadrick’s Jesu work. The main chorus is all Gothic swagger with the distorted chords giving a trace of the atmosphere of Siouxsie and The Banshees‘ Join Hands album. This is one of the most ‘rock’ tracks here and becomes strangely jaunty before ending with looped vocal samples.
Echoing, delayed vocals and heavy, Techno Animal-style beats announce ‘Melee’, one of the most dynamic and intriguing tracks. The ethereal vocals of the first section are then replaced by doom-like rasps and chants before the track slows down and mutates into a more muted and atmospheric section in advance of the final onslaught. Shone’s way of processing vocals and setting them around euphorically dark beats is quite distinctive and impressive.
The contrast between the brutal cut-off of the previous track and the melancholic piano introducing ‘Tame as a Lion’ jolts the listener roughly into a very different mode. It’s a post-nuclear ballad in the NIN tradition and even the harsher vocals on the chorus don’t destroy the romantic, gothic atmosphere. It’s a curio that feels like it shouldn’t work (the main refrain is right on the verge of being kitsch) but somehow it does and the piano works very effectively.
‘Fearce’ [sic] is a steroid-addled beast, drunk on its own power, staggering around belligerently at a faster pace, backed by an aggressive chant and pummelling percussion. The sting in the tail is the eventual advent of strangely melodic chords offsetting the by-now-furious vocals.
After the storm, the calm. ‘Miles from Home’ is a beguilingly atmospheric track based around gothic synth chords, which are slowly joined by multiple repetitions of the phrase ‘chained up’. The bleaker chords of the last section and the suprisingly emotional vocals are very studied and interesting. The song becomes quite quite hymn-like and romantic – a stately epic in the last place you’d expect to find it.
‘Pain myself’ again starts out ballad-like, the piano chords could have been written by Martin Gore but (sadly) he’d never allow himself to follow them up with the bitterness and noise that then break out (or if he did he’d delegate the dirty work to a remixer). Overall, it comes across like a massively distorted Depeche Mode song, with the piano-led verse offset by aggressively serrated beats and the inevitable outbreaks of rage.
The abrupt and violent changes of mood and style between and within tracks suggests there’s scope for a really worthwhile remix project here. It would be interesting to hear the industrial, metal or other moments in the track fully developed or denied, twisting the songs into new shapes.
The album is a unique hybrid produced by techno-fetishistic labour and a dark imagination. It may attract adventurous rock, metal and even some industrial audiences, but all are in for some surprises, welcome or otherwise.
Author & Punisher Links.