There is something compelling about music that will make people jump into a van and travel the length and breadth of their own country and, if they are lucky, others in order to stand in a variety of settings (outdoor or indoor, upmarket or DIY shithole) in order to play their music to a packed venue or the classic cliche of one man and his dog.
The flip side to that is that fans of music will also readily do the same and having racked up thousands of miles in my lifetime traveling to see bands great and small in some of the most prestigious concerts halls and some of the most pitiful, so when I was told that Tristan Shone was going to be making the 5479 mile trip from San Diego to bring his Author & Punisher project to the UK for a string of live dates (something he dreamed of when we initially spoke a few years ago), the 3 hour car journey from Exeter to Birmingham seemed a paltry undertaking in comparison. The first half of the trek passed in a blur of beautiful country side and sunshine, high tempo catchy music on the stereo, distraction the key to stop me talking out loud to myself. The second half of my journey, in preparation for the evening I threw on Author & Punisher’s new album ‘Women & Children’ and followed this up with previous effort ‘Urus Americanus’, one thing I have to say is that as much as I love it, for me, Doom music is not the best driving material.
As the skies darkened and threatened rain, the oppressively atmospheric mechanised music can give the mind too much time to wonder, becoming acutely aware of my own dependence on technology at that moment; the purring of the engine, the relentless march of the Sat Nav, the contours and textures of the road and the sheer wonderment at what abominations people will do to perfectly good cars in the name of ‘style’. Either that or this was the point I remembered just how fucking boring motorway driving is!
Never-the-less the change in atmosphere was palpable as I left the West Country behind and headed towards a city that was famous for the industrial steel mills that cost one Anthony Frank Iommi his finger tips, in turn leading him to fashion the towering slabs of Doom laced Metal that Author & Punisher owe a debt, carving out sounds that are the bastard offspring of Black Sabbath and the machines that gave them both inspiration.
Fittingly The Wagon & Horses, Digbeth lies surrounded by old industrial buildings and in the shadow of the Victorian era viaduct. Like Shone’s take on Industrial Doom metal this area is undergoing redevelopment which will see the tearing down of the old and the transition of regeneration.
The upstairs room where the bands are is tight, warm and claustrophobic, offering a contrast to the peaceful fundraiser going on for the Anti-Hunting Brigade out in the beer garden.
Female Smell, a local Birmingham outfit formed in January this year featuring ex members of Diet Pills/Knives and Beestung Lips kick this off literally playing on the floor in front of the audience. As visceral and raw as their former bands, this three piece attack the performance with a belligerent glee that sees them in the faces of the front row and sometimes in the middle of the crowd. Despite their desire to pedal snotty, obnoxious, DIY noise that owes as much to the punk scene as it does to metal, they also possess an intriguing melodic edge which betrays an urge to connect. However whether deliberately through sheer bloody mindedness or purely down to the fact that they were playing in front of their amps, most of the sound was lost under a hail of pain inducing feedback that had audience members desperately covering their ears in a bid to save their hearing.
For a band some five months old they attacked their material with destructive glee, walking a line between abusive and appreciative of those who came to watch. Give them a stage and less feedback and it would make for a better showing, but part of me wonders if they loved this gig as it was.
If Female Smell provided a fierce opening experience, then next band Ore were no less of an intense proposition. Having not done my research particularly thoroughly before the show my companion and I were confronted by Stuart Estell and Sam Underwood brandishing a pair of tubas. Members of the Oxbow Orchestra, accompanied by a percussionist, Ore play deep heavy resonant Doom and Drone music, again, on two Tubas. Following the frenetic start to the evening, this performance was eerily still, the band members seated and focused on breathing, timing and supporting the large brass instruments or waiting for the right moments for the intermittent drumming.
The music was heavy, deep bass sounds hanging in the air and echoing around the room with no less intensity, just a lot less feedback. The set was hypnotic and mesmerising like witnessing a medieval Sunno O)))) or being present at the funeral of a Viking Lord and much like Author & Punisher’s technical bastardisation of the genre to have this strange performance absent of the electrical instruments usually associated with Doom, stripped back to the skills involved with the breathing techniques involved that made the continuous cycle of resonance was a strangely calming and yet ominous at the same time.
Gnod are an ever evolving proposition, once purveyors of ambient sludge drone rock they currently play a kind of psych tech, ambient, dub electronic post apocalyptic noise. Hailing from Salford this multi instrumental collective not only revolve members playing instruments but also the instruments they use themselves. At least five members strong they performed in near darkness, lit by the psychedelic back drop that was almost as entrancing as the music they pumped out.
Deep bass, fleeting rhythm’s and half chanted, spoken, garbled, screamed vocals and digital accents all collide in a booming psyche freakout that reflects the intensity of a seance. Gnod’s members approach their music in a manner befitting their collective/commune attitude, band members interchange between instruments and the single minded purpose of the group is almost cult like in it’s mentality. Having ditched the space/krautrock of earlier releases for an intense ‘dark dub’ electronic vibe that involves sternum rattling beats and throbbing bass. With all senses locked on the silhouettes of the performers against the ever changing backdrop and the pounding music moving seamlessly from one mood to another Gnod create moments to get lost in.
Using pure electronic equipment (although I did catch the glimpse of a guitar) with all manner of effects the band was yet another absorbing experience that drew it’s audience in almost cult like to the point that vocalist Neil Francis is almost surrounded by audience members dancing with him in a slow motion rave.
It was at times a fairly powerful and unique feeling that I imagine would be all consuming if you were mashed off your face.
From the art galleries of the Netherlands to squats in Berlin, Tristan Shone has taken his brand of frightening biomechanical Doom dystopia across Europe this, er Summer (is it Summer yet?) on the back of not one, but three compelling back to back Author & Punisher albums. Made possible by the evolution of his tools in trade this tour became reality when the necessity to drag around a 400lb spinning metal disc was replaced by sleeker, more dub orientated devices that may have cut lose some of the comparisons with Godflesh, but made Author & Punisher a more interesting, original and no less frightening proposition.
As someone who has helped set up their fair share of gigs, just watching the set up was an event, no heads and cabs wheeled into place, no drum breakables being assembled; instead what looks like a futuristic gun on a caterpillar track and an array of knobs and wires that look more like a power station control centre rather than the prelude to a musical performance.
The anticipation in the room was palpable as Shone took to the stage behind the voice modulating mask and wrapped his fingers round the trigger of the Linear Actuator that essentially operates as the drum machine, teasing the crowd and asking for more volume from the sound guy and then; Boom. Or rather Doom. Doom on an industrial scale.
The sounds that are created are every bit as vertigo inducing in a live setting as they are on record, a mind bending warp of Skinny Puppy and Nine Inch Nails colliding with Godflesh and Ministry in a decaying factory, kicking the shit out of each other as the building comes crashing down around them.
Melding aspects of the albums together, it is possible to pick out moments like ‘Lonely’ and ‘Terrorbird’ from the previous album mixed in with squealing electronic freak outs and rib crushing bass; all the while the nature of the way the music is crafted means that the performance from Shone is visually captivating and physically demanding as he pounds the hammer like Actuator and slides and twists the other sound manipulating devices.
More arty and experimental than on record it is no less an entertaining show and with a pumped up crowd which contrasted with the oppressive, claustrophobic, pulsing sounds, the robotic one man band conjured the air of Philip K Dick and a thousand other science fiction writers worst nightmares. Even a brief hiatus due to some technical problems arising from a less than sturdy playing surface couldn’t dampen the mood and the audience were left baying for more even after the last ringing drone disappeared.
It seems the wider world is finally waking up to the genius of Author & Punisher and to see the show up close and personal in a tiny, sweaty, packed room was a treat and something that may never be replicated. Quite unlike anything you have heard or seen, it was well worth the 6 hour round trip.
Scribed, Photos & Videos by: Mark Hunt-Bryden