As far as we know, futurist music is no more. One of the last attempts to resuscitate the arthritic soul of the clanging artistic mechanism in the rock and metal community was probably Mike Patton’s Pranzo Oltranzista, but the year was 1997 and I was almost two decades younger. In the meantime, neither the likes of John Zorn or Elliott Sharp have ever contributed to the reiteration of that crime against common sense that was immortalised on Marinetti’s Manifest of Futurism in 1909. Too abstract and complex, their art; too prudent and astute their approach, contemporary artists have been neglecting pure noise for over 50 years.
In futurism, sound was not reproduced; it was produced. By means of contemporary artifacts, sheets of metal, banging engines and passing trains. Tristan Shone (aka Author & Punisher) has simply reverted the process. The focus here is not the sound that comes out of a utensil but, rather, the machine tool to be assembled around a specific idea of a tone or note. As you might know, almost every single instrument this artisan uses, both live and in studio, is made by Shone himself: barely a single sound is produced by means other than implements built by him and, believe it or not, we don’t get cheated in the variety department.
If the previous album was in reality a study on mid-tempo, Melk En Honing (“Milk and Honey,” if your Dutch is a bit shaky) is a more mature work revolving around a classical (yes) song form. This shift is almost tangible in the most unsuspected of places, like the eight-minute opener “The Barge,” where although an AABA sequence is still not discernible, the music flows as if it were following the only path available to it. Shone’s arrangement is effortless, almost artistically safe, but captivating nonetheless. Call it “doom” if you like, or “industrial” if it helps, but the descent into the dark abyss of a tune like “Future Man” is a genre onto itself, with its obsessive repetitions and punishing drones suffocated by the weight of a relentless gravity.
The vocals play a role which was unknown on previous releases, especially when, as in “Shame,” the clean singing offsets the claustrophobic pace of the tune. They cease being a mere accompaniment to live a life of their own, building melodies in stark contrast with the doom and the machines, the soot and the gearwheels, the organic thought and the mechanical act. You can be forgiven if, at times, acts like Marilyn Manson and the industrial-goth circus springs to mind, but at a closer look, one can safely recognise the likes of Godflesh, Throbbing Gristle, Coil and Killing Joke. And that is indeed a relief.
The flipside, however, is that vocals inherently force the music in a certain direction, thus limiting the number of potential outcomes. For this reason, Melk En Honing sounds more accessible than its predecessors while still managing to sound daring and beautifully rotten. The long, extenuating array of gigs in the last two years has surely played a part in this renewed formula, in which the live dimension of Author & Punisher’s music appear predominant, as if it had been molded by the direct assent/dissent that is proper for the live performance.
Remixed by Jason Kohnen (Bong Ra) and Gore Tech, and overseen by Phil Hansen Anselmo (no, I won’t tell you who he is), this little masterpiece in pulsating music, with its unhurried stride, relentless musicality and brutal genuineness is up there with the best albums of the year. Why? If you’ve had a chance to play it, you already know the answer. If, instead, you haven’t given it a spin or, worse, you’re a musical Luddite, close your eyes and listen to “Future Man.” An awful, bleak and choking vision will keep you good company. God bless the faithless.