Author & Punisher is a project unlike others. For those uninitiated – engineer, instrumentalist, and vocalist Tristan Shone runs the show by not only creating the music, but creating the instruments that make the music. And his instruments… well, they're one-of a kind. Inhuman pneumatic masks, sex-robot thrusting drum loops, Frankenstein lab lever noisemakers, and much more. Industrial music has always been about imitating the sounds of machinery. However, Shone has eliminated such "imitation" and has gone straight to the source – the machine itself.
On Krüller, we hear a new path for Author & Punisher. The cataclysmic, industrial churning rhythms are still present and intoxicating as ever, but also oozing this '80s melancholy. Although the physical concept driving this one-man band was already alluring as-is, this gentle stylistic transition to include an emphasis on retro, goth-laden synths should drag the attention of any previously dismissive onlookers.
In an effort towards honesty, the Author & Punisher identity and novelty was beginning to rust around the edges with recent releases. Beastland and Pressure Mine did have plentiful moments of inspiring experimentation, but also tested a listener's patience. Such a critique is not even relevant on this new record. The material nearly instantly immerses you into a world of both depressive and addictive qualities.
Opener "Drone Carrying Dread" is pumped full of gristly static, dust, and dejection. Even though the new Matrix movie was unbearable, including this track anywhere throughout the film would've made me consider watching it a few more times. That anxiety nerve on the back of your skull is tickled all throughout the following song, "Incinerator." The music acts like the score for a tour of a haunted, abandoned robot factory. You can't miss the Type O Negative serenade that is "Maiden Star." Peter Steele's eternal soul raised an eyebrow upon the reveal of this October Rust anthem-esque slowburner.
Later in the tracklisting, "Blacksmith" merges the aesthetics of Westworld with Blade Runner as murky, minimal electronica eventually evolves into a late-Skinny Puppy breakbeat collage. Although the track doesn't have the same hook factor as the aforementioned pieces, the tonal evolution is profound. The best covers are when an artist transforms the original song, which is certainly the case on "Glorybox." The Portishead hit leans more towards A Perfect Circle playing doom metal rather than the track's downtempo trip-hop roots. After reaching the end of the record, the title track opens the gates to a deeper rabbit hole of Shone's mind. The album is bereft of any samples until the woman's dialogue and circus melody that is layered on top of the closer comes from left field at a malicious pace.
Thematically, Krüller may not be breaking new ground when considering the dystopian future fascination from the likes of Fear Factory, nonetheless a beautiful universe is created through an ambitious lyrical array of masochistic optimism in the face of dark days to come. "Maiden Star" may be Tristan at his most vulnerable, providing reverb-heavy clean vocals that plead the gritty message: "Two hearts, seek a better start / Two hearts, two nodes / Two hearts, seek a better start / But I don’t know if I can take it anymore." The emotional lyric cries out the loudest as it emerges in the center of a record of despondency.
In retrospective, the initial allure of Author & Punisher was the esoteric and relentless musical innovation showcased. The sound was distinct, abrasive, and robotic. While a sentimental part of me is saddened that most of these core identities have been dismissed in the new album's direction, I feel that this maturation was necessary. Krüller shows a human side of Shone, more right side of the brain, and an openness to more perspective. We see guitarist Phil Sgrosso and synth and drum sequencing by Jason Begin shape this album. Additionally, delightful contributions are made by drummer John Cota ("Drone Carrying Dread," "Incinerator") and vocalist Marilia Maschion ("Maiden Star") as well as shining features by Tool bassist Justin Chancellor ("Centurion") and drummer Danny Carey ("Misery"). All these creative minds and hands in the mix evolve this project into something larger, an Author & Punisher 2.0 if you will.
The pioneering industrial doom and drone sound within Drone Machines and Ursus Americanus were insanely forward-thinking; they will always be in the bone marrow of Author & Punisher. But this new skin, I welcome it.