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Album Review: AUTHOR & PUNISHER Women & Children

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There's something unsettling about the music of Tristan Shone, a.k.a. Author & Punisher. It's hard to pinpoint, but there's a certain menace about the songs on Women & Children that elicits a primal dread. Anyone who's ever felt that  visceral fear and urge to run away as fast as possible while in a basement or walking home at night will understand.

Fear and dread aren't foreign to metal and industrial music; both genres typically traffic in these emotions. But Author & Punisher is a different beast from the likes of Skinny Puppy or Black Sabbath. Shone creates dread from a general atmosphere rather than explicit lyrics. The films of David Lynch and the fiction of H.P. Lovecraft work in a similar vein. Shone's music has more of a post-apocalyptic feel than Lovecraft or Lynch's work, but the feelings it evokes are the same. Also, despite the fact that Author & Punisher's music is generated artificially with electronics Shone built himself, there's still the feeling that these pieces are organic and alive. You can almost hear the music heaving with life. This is largely due to the dubstep influence in the songs, with their pulsating bass tones that sound like the breathing of some repulsive biological abomination David Cronenberg dreamed up.

Women & Children is a powerful and chilling piece of music. The previous Author & Punisher album, last year's Ursus Americanus, was compelling, but this LP is an improvement in every way. Shone sticks with the basic template from his previous album – a hybridization of industrial, dubstep, and doom metal. But the compositions on Women & Children are denser and more complex. The production is sharper, too.

The album's opening and title track (streamable on Soundcloud here) is the perfect example of this atmosphere. "Women & Children" opens with what sounds like crickets chirping and a pulsing bass tone layered over top. From there some processed piston noises and electronic drum tones come in. Elements continue to be added until we have a pulsating sonic mass that sounds like it's actually breathing. Then Shone's indistinguishable vocals drop in, heavily processed and mixed behind all the other elements. It sounds like some repulsive, bio-mechanical blob is stalking the listener through an abandoned industrial complex, in the shadows just out of sight. The listener can't tell where the monstrosity is, but knows it's slowly getting closer. As the song progresses, the pulsating tones increase in frequency as the music builds to a crescendo. Then, when the song is at it's brain-melting peak, it just stops.

The second and third tracks, "In Remorse" (which Pitchfork is streaming here) and "Melee" (which NPR is currently streaming), follow a structure similar to "Women & Children". Shone's vocals are much less processed on these songs, but the progressive addition of sonic layers from the beginning to the final peak and the subsequent abrupt end to the music are much the same.

"Tame As A Lion" and "Fierce" offer a cool down period for the listener. Both tracks are as intense as anything else on Women & Children, but the tempo here is slowed to a funeral doom crawl. Rather than being chased by a mutant freak, these two songs conjure images of some cyborg army marching through a post-apocalyptic wasteland, crushing anything in their paths.

Track six, "Miles From Home", is a serious departure from the previous compositions on the album. It's a sparse, spacey song that's probably not a far cry from what the soundtrack to 2001: A Space Odyssey would have sounded like if it was composed by Goblin. Rather than sounding menacing like the rest of the LP, this song sounds lonely. There's not much happening aside from a repetitive synth line, some steady bass hits, and Tristan Shone's voice echoing "I can change" over and over again.

"Pain Myself" is the album closer and it bears more than a passing similarity to Nine Inch Nails' "Hurt". Both tracks start with a simple melody/vocal pairing that grows in intensity and quickly falls off. It's a familiar motif throughout this album as well as a lot of Trent Reznor's work. But, in this song, instead of a narrator wishing for a second chance, Tristan Shone pleads with the listener to strap him down because he can't restrain himself anymore. It's not clear what he can't restrain himself from doing, but it's obvious from the tone of the song that it's not going to be pleasant.

It would be easy to lazily toss off comparisons between Author & Punisher and other industrial acts. Tristan Shone demonstrates the same talent for crafting harsh yet melodic songs that Trent Reznor possesses; the slavering ugliness and sci-fi horror atmosphere recalls Skinny Puppy; the sparse futurism and twitchy mechanical grind is reminiscent of Gridlock; and Shone, with his homemade electronic contraptions, has to at least be considered a spiritual successor to Einstürzende Neubauten. Art isn't created in a vacuum, and the fact that Author & Punisher has some things in common with other bands doesn't diminish that fact that Women & Children is a colossal album. It's not strictly metal, but it's heavy and disturbing like a nightmare you suddenly wake from but aren't quite sure you fully escaped.

Women & Children will be released June 11th on Seventh Rule Recordings. Follow this link to pre-order the CD digipack. Below you can see Tristan Shone in action live last year in Providence, Rhode Island. This guy is industrial is the truest sense of the word.




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