With 2010’s Drone Machines album, San Diego’s Author & Punisher, aka Tristan Shone, challenged the landscape of Industrial, Doom and Drone music. Part performance art, part revolutionary approach to making music, the concept of this nightmarish cyborg one man band played out in alien soundscapes and harrowing tortured howls as bleak as winds whipping across a post apocalyptic world.
As Author & Punisher has evolved as a project, Shone has incorporated elements of Dub Step and dance genres, as well as more organic tropes that have continued to engage listeners with his twisted, dystopian vision.
The musical take has been so unconventional and so different that at times it is was easy to see how for some listening to any of Drone Machines, Ursus Americanus or Women & Children could be a struggle. There are vocal hooks, reoccurring motifs and grooves but they have to be mined, immersed as they are in swirling film score like movements, ambient passages and cavernous bleakness that have more in common with trance or drone music than the metal scene; there has always been a danger that this is too arty a project for mass appeal and this unique vision would be limited to being a curiosity.
Since Women & Children, Author & Punisher was offered an opportunity to support former Pantera frontman and extreme music aficionado Phil Anselmo on his Technicians Of Distortion tour. From here performance art was reassessed under a more demanding live audience as Shone rubbed shoulders with Corrections House, EyeHateGod, War Beast, not to mention Phil Anselmo & The Illegals and this has seemingly lead to another evolutionary shift.
Enter Melk en Honing.
Having been squared away in the now legendary Nodferatu’s Lair and overseen by Anselmo himself, Author & Punisher‘s fifth full length release debuts on his Housecore label, which is just about as ringing an endorsement as one could get. The result is a sleek, 8 track affair that continues to challenge musical perception, yet widen the appeal. If the Author & Punisher that released Drone Machines was the 800 series Terminator, Melk en Honing is the T-1000 version and this time it’s not going to be stopped.
One of the things Anselmo talked about in the recording process was how good Shone’s voice was and how he should use it more; this immediately becomes apparent on opening epic The Barge which sets the scene with it’s slow, pulsing rhythm that still sounds like nothing that has gone before and the visceral vocals intoning ‘No peace, no faith’ are spat with bleak intent.
Cauterize sees a return to the ‘classic Author & Punisher sound’, that almost Filth Pig era Ministry grind and guttural vocals, but the change is an expansive melodic passage that melds the styles in ways not previously explored. The same can be said for Shame, the cold hiss and mechanical clash, like robots fighting in a smelting factory combine a lurching, harder vocal style with a clean delivery that almost gives the track an Alice In Chains like harmony. This woozy melody is further augmented by the piano that was a central part to Women & Children and vocal parts that are reminiscent of Drone Machines.
The 7 minute Future Man is a highlight of the album, outdoing classic Fear Factory at their own game with the dense atmosphere. The whole central theme of the song is built around a stumbling melody with the vocals clean in the centre with its huge anthemic chorus ‘We’ve got no future, man’ and the sombre ‘given how far we’ve fallen’. In previous albums it has sometimes been hard to pick up on a narrative theme, but Melk en Honing has some of the most desperate and direct lyrics since the likes of 2010’s Doppler.
Aside from the more prominent vocalisations, Shone has squeezed the sounds into diamond precision, adding debt touches and subtle flavours to the more straight forward arrangements. This has been done without compromising the ethos of Drone and Doom that have long been how passions; Disparate has a pounding tribal feel mimicked by the Linear Actuator to accompany the chanting vocals and spoken word passage. Teething has a throbbing pulse behind lyrics like ‘fear of the wicked, fear of the ghosts’ that makes the whole thing genuinely scary while closing track Null, Void, Alive rounds off this journey with a galloping drum sound and strange off kilter melody that fittingly, for the complexity of this musical project, ends with Shone, stripped of all the machines, acapella screaming the title of the song. It is a symbolic end to an album that has channelled the human form and machinery into a nightmarish glimpse into the future.
Simply put Melk en Honing is startling for an artist who has made a habit of startling people. Having seen Author & Punisher live before the heavy touring under the wing of Anselmo, I appreciated the spectacle and could see how it would translate into an art installation, but the idea of it fitting in with a conventional rock show was asking a lot of people who may not share the awe at the vision. I always hoped that if a step could be taken towards a broader appeal, then the world could see the wonders that were happening in the mind of Tristan Shone.
I feel that the idea of bands playing ‘classic’ albums in their entirety has become very played out in recent years, but if it was possible Melk en Honing is the perfect set for Author & Punisher to showcase everything great about the project and this is perfectly encapsulated by the preview track Callous And Hoof. On it the music oscillates from the stately Vangelis like synth that was present on the last album but mutates into a swooping, smashing high tempo track that batters you with its tight drum sounds and spat lyrics. One minute it caresses you like a creepy fog in a horror movie and the next minute it’s a buzz saw attack out of the darkness.
It would be unfair to say that ‘songs’ have now been added to Author & Punisher‘s arsenal, it would be wrong to say that it is more ‘accessible’ as the average Black Veil Brides fan will run screaming from Melk en Honing with a stream of piss running down their leg, but what is apparent is that Anselmo has helped Shone find more believe in his voice, literally, and as an artist.
Instantly this feels like a classic.
Scribed by: Mark Hunt-Bryden