Author & Punisher’s Melk En Honing Is Pretty Sweet
In metal, music and work rarely get to overlap. Sure, you’ve got the “lucky” few who work in the industry, and the even rarer artists who can subsist on their craft alone, but by and large, metal musicians’ employed lives rarely bear much resemblance to their creative ones. Not so for 37-year old sculptor and mechanical engineer Tristan Shone, the man behind solo industrial doom project Author & Punisher. Since his college years, he’s been building and engineering robots; since 2005, Shone has been designing and creating instruments on which he plays his specific brand of industrial noise. Given the similarity between his daytime and nighttime pursuits, it’s not entirely surprising that Author & Punisher’s fifth full-length Melk En Honing (Dutch for “milk and honey”) is deeply close-knit in its conceptual, architectural, and sonic themes. The 2015 record is one of Shone’s nastiest and sleekest works to date, traveling through all sorts of unlikely soundscapes on its punishing journey.
You can’t fully understand Author and Punisher’s music without understanding Tristan Shone’s approach. In terms of its production, Author & Punisher’s music is more electronic than metal (though he’s mixed in traditional instruments from time to time), but it’s got all sorts of steel in its execution. Shone has built a variety of different metal machines that trigger and manipulate sound and samples in different ways: sliding keyboards, enormous MIDI knobs, and, the most recent additions – a set of voice-modifying masks – all contraptions that capture physical movement and use that physical movement to lend Shone’s music a juddering sense of motion. The machines render the mechanical inseparable from the human, and leave the music feeling detached but eerily familiar, a sentiment that’s expounded in the remarkable flexibility of Shone’s otherwise uncompromising manner.
As those machines have grown and transitioned over the years, so too has Author & Punisher’s music. Melk En Honing is the heaviest since 2010’s Drone Machines, and it throws us right back into the fray, all writhing static pessimism and the gut-wrenchingly low aggressions of things that sound like guitars. Justin Broadrick’s various works immediately come to mind, but so do Neurosis, Meshuggah, and artists as far away as Kevin Drumm and Intronaut. Shone’s vocalizations wax and wane over thirty flavors of harsh and clean, slow and fast, all laid over hammering walls of dissonance and dismal rhythm. Melk En Honing’s lyrics have the same blunt, heavy delivery as its riffs – masses of hopeless symbolism are flung about slowly, yet almost haphazardly. Despite the density, the melodic tendencies that started to develop on Women and Children resurface here in the clearly intelligible lyrical delivery. Like some evangelical zealot, Shone bludgeons you over the head with his apocalyptic sermon until you’re convinced that you get it on some sick internal level. It’s truly hypnotic.
It’s not easy to make earworms out of 9-minute marathons, but via a combination of deranged repetition and pop-sensible arrangement, Author & Punisher does just that. There’s a little of everything here – beat-based electronic music, sludge, drone, noise; even pop. If there’s any fault with Melk En Honing, it’s only that Tristan Shone is starting to tread upon already-traveled territory. With music whose very premise is so inherently enterprising, it’s a little disappointing to chance upon riffs that sound similar to previous offerings. But regardless of a little redundancy in the man’s 6-hour oeuvre, listening to Author & Punisher is always a powerful and illuminating experience, and Melk En Honing sees Shone uniting heaviness with accessibility in ways he never has before. Few artists can make the unpredictable thrive within the repetitive and coax genuine emotion from cold, lifeless steel; when you find one, you had better take a listen.