(In this post NCS writer BadWolf reviews a live show by A Life Once Lost, Author and Punisher, and Encrust last month, and Nicholas Vechery provides some killer pics.)
I was walking through JC Penny with a friend the other day—he had a gift certificate and wanted to spend it, which proved harder than we anticipated. Because fuck JC Penny. He decided to look through clearance dress shoes. He tried a pair on, put it back and said:
‘It fits alright but I don’t like that metal band on the top.’
To which I said.
‘I don’t think I’ve heard anyone use those two words literally like that in years.’
It’s easy to take the origin of metal, as a genre-describing-word, out of context. It’s become self-referential. Suppose your friend took a spill while skateboarding and cut his forehead open—you might see the blood streaming over his eye and say ‘that’s so metal,’ like the genre’s content. But really that’s not metal at all. Metal cannot bleed.
Metal is machine-music. It’s hard as industry. I cannot conceive of an acoustic metal band—unlike rock and roll, we need electricity and amplification to make metal. Though not necessarily guitars, but I’ll get back to that in a moment.
The Man Machine Tour, featuring A Life Once Lost, Author and Punisher, and Encrust, was an inspired lineup: not only did each band have its own distinct flavor, but each, in its own way, embodied those mechanical, industrial aspects of the genre.
Nick Vechery and I made our entrance at Mickey Finn’s Pub partway through Encrust’s set. I had been looking forward to seeing Encrust for some time: their debut, From Birth to Soil, was a solid, rollicking set of sludgy death and roll. I had also heard that they played Obituary off the stage when they opened for them last year. Encrust made their fifteen minutes with me count. The Chicago four-piece rolled me over like a bulldozer, heavy on low end and rhythm. They were still tight after their set at South by Southwest, and obviously made a few fans at the show: myself and others were disappointed that there is no vinyl pressing of From Birth to Soil, and unfortunately the boys hit the road before I had the chance to buy a CD. Their Facebook posts indicate that their second record is nearing completion—I look forward to hearing that material and purchasing it on the shiny black stuff.
The night, however, truly belonged to Author and Punisher. For those who missed my previous coverage, Author and Punisher is the part-band-part-art-project of Tristan Shone, who uses his skills as a mechanical engineer to create unique electronic instruments, out of which he wrings emotionally suffocating industrial doom, with heavy elements of dub and drone music.
Shone’s Done Machines are intimidating live, but a bit finicky: his set was delayed for close to an hour by a malfunctioning piece of equipment. To Shone’s credit, the audience neither heckled nor left. After another round at the bar, Shone blazed through a powerful set with choice cuts from his excellent Ursus Americanus album, including “Terrorbird,” “Flesh Ants,” and “Lonely,” as well as a new song from his upcoming Women and Children album.
Live, Author and Punisher is a penetrating experience. The sound itself is loud, but full of depth, and acquires a bit of the organic immersive quality that folk-black metal groups like Agalloch and Wolves in the Throne Room conjure. What separates the songs on record from their live incarnations is actually seeing Shone actually perform on his machines. When Shone strains into his vocal mask and against the resistant machines, he captures something philosophical, a slice of the human condition. Even Vechery, who is a critical music lover, gushed over the live performance. He said that watching Shone play the machines was like a sinister vaudeville act, and praised him for doing something completely unique from any other musical act either of us have experienced. I agree wholeheartedly. See Author and Punisher as soon as you can.
A Life Once Lost took the stage as a four-piece, missing one bass string and with Douglas Sabolick playing guitar through two rigs, one seemingly set up entirely for chorus, because their entire set (drawn heavily from their latest album, Ecstatic Trance, one of my favorites of last year, was washed over with watery guitar FX. The distortion gave their entire set a blurry, psychedelic feel, but underneath that, their muscular playing remained intact. If Author and Punisher was an animal trapped in the guts of a machine, then A Life Once Lost was the opposite: the Terminator. Underneath the psychedelia they’re still the pulverizing rhythm force they always have been.
Which is not to say this was the A Life Once Lost I remember from high school. Obviously, the band have been taking steps to remove themselves from the ever-problematic metalcore label, and sonically that means more mid-paced, groovy songs. Live, the Ecstatic Trance material felt like being swallowed by the ocean. That didn’t stop Bob Meadows from closing the set with a rousing rendition of “Vultures,” from Hunter. He even let me scream a round of the chorus.
In all, I haven’t heard a really cohesive band lineup like this in some time. A focus, from tour poster to every act in the lineup, on mechanical rhythm made this one of the best tours I’ve seen so far this year. A superior use of my money compared t0, say, JC Penny.