Author & Punisher‘s Melk en Honing took Tristan Shone’s fiercely unique and painstaking industrial doom to ambitious new heights, exploring compositional avenues that both challenged and reaffirmed the project’s core sound. It never did as much for me as Women & Children though. The appeal of Shone’s work, to me, has never been in its horizontal structure but in its exploration of novel pathways to create sound and the ways that Shone pieces novel noises together to act as riffs and melodies that produce memorable—dare I say catchy—music. How he produces a sound that’s so thoroughly chained to the physicality of its own creation. How he uses actual weight, in the form of a prison-like array of custom-fabricated instruments, to produce what, when we experience it, we call “heavy.”
Beastland looks back to Women & Children, and after pausing to consider it, overwrites it. Shone’s investment in a slew of new drone machines brought dividends of unbelievable proportions. The density of sound that Beastland brings to the table almost insinuates a meekness in previous Author & Punisher albums, a reservedness that never for a second existed but in retrospect. “Pharmacide” eases into this new intensity, gradually building rhythm and texture over a simple melodic contour. Yet the combined effect is more powerful than anything from the A&P back catalog. A heavy filth coats, no, comprises every tone and it becomes strenuous to separate parts or even understand how Shone is creating all of them at once.
At one point I thought Beastland was frontloaded. Then I changed my mind to backloaded. Finally, I realized that almost every song on Beastland holds you captive while it lasts. Yet it’s the middle of the album—a point that vexes so many artists—that the very best songs in the Author & Punisher catalog settle. Right as you expect it to end, “The Speaker is Systematically Blown” wrenches a pitch-shift through a transient key change that somehow redoubles the song’s original energy in a far more melodic context. Immediately after, “Nazarene” reworks an odd cut from the Pressure Mine EP into a monolithic and blissfully powerful anthem, again relying on contrast, this time between a crawling verse and grimy but towering chorus.
Kurt Ballou has never been known for his light touch on production, and his approach to Beastland is just as hard-hitting and loud as any album in his oeuvre. The LP sounds more solid and concerted than previous Author & Punisher releases, and it really does work, especially for music that is already based on extreme distortion. Some might gawk at the low DR, but when you consider a beat as saturated as the one from “Apparition,” gliding from a near-subsonic rattle to a piercing screech, you realize there’s not a lot of headroom in Shone’s tones to begin with, and Ballou’s mix is solid as ever. Part of the album’s success is in how much more concerted it feels than, for instance, Women and Children, where it was much easier to separate beats, melodies, and backing parts. Here, it’s at times difficult to say whether sounds are meant to be melody or the rhythm and the music seems to appear all at once, immersing the listener in sound.
Those who found the more exploratory writing of Melk en Honing so fascinating might be stymied by the straightforward structures of Beastland, but Author & Punisher‘s sound is all the more effective when focused less on rumination and more on annihilation. Density and texture conspire to bring these simply structured compositions to life purely through profound coercion of noise and rarely fail in their plot. Even the all-too-repetitive “Nihil Strength” is saved in part by this intensity, a product both of Shone’s continuing sonic exploration and Ballou’s ability to wring every drop of power from Shone’s work.1 Beastland articulates the core conflict of Author & Punisher—a synthesis and antithesis of man and machine—with more concise and lucid statements than we have ever heard before.
DR: 4 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Relapse Records
Websites: authorandpunisher.bandcamp.com | authorandpunisher.com | facebook.com/authorandpunisher
Releases Worldwide: October 5th, 2018