(DGR reviews the new album by Author & Punisher.)
If you’ve been reading the site for a bit you’ll have noted the name Author & Punisher coming up from time to time, usually by way of my loud mouth. I’m a relatively recent convert to the Author & Punisher school, yet in that time the releases out of this project have quickly rocketed up the charts into ones that I look forward to the most — in large part buoyed by the fact that I find this project absolutely fascinating.
It’s been great seeing the Author & Punisher profile increase over the years, even in the limited time I’ve been following it since my review of Women And Children (having heard stuff before, but never fully exploring until that disc). More people seem to be discovering this odd bit of machination turned into music — but lo and behold, who would’ve predicted that the next Author & Punisher album was going to be produced by Phil Anselmo of Pantera, Down, and Superjoint Ritual fame?
For those who are still wondering what it is the hell I am rambling about, Author & Punisher is a San Diego-based musical project belonging to artist and engineer Tristan Shone. Over the past few years, he’s been making a sort of slow-moving, suffocating, industrial, and heavy form of doom that is already pretty left-field to begin with, likely to be much discussed in dark, smoky rooms by people who probably finish half their sentences with, “You might not have heard them”.
However, what makes Author & Punisher even more interesting is that he also custom builds a whole bunch of different machines in order to get the noises that he creates, called the drone and dub machines, alongside a series of masks that he moves between in order to apply effects to his vocals. This means that an Author & Punisher performance is like watching someone wire himself into an exo-suit of sorts, as each movement he makes usually corresponds to some sound coming out of his machines. It’s like a one-man band consisting of nothing but nightmares.
Melk En Honing (as I am informed) is Dutch for “Milk And Honey”) and it’s the newest Author & Punisher release, one that veers into markedly different territory than the anguish of Women And Children (though still playing with the ______ and _____ format for titles), in that it is a vocal-heavy album, and one that contains actual melody and something of a concept, on top of actually including a couple songs where the music increases to fast, which much be a hell of a thing to witness live. It’s a tad more approachable but still has a couple of absolutely suffocating sections. Melk En Honing, likes its predecessor, is a challenging album to explain and to listen to, yet it’s one that is strong enough for us to tell you right now to check out, if only for the uniqueness of the experience.
As I mentioned before, one of the reasons I have found Author & Punisher to be a fascinating project over the years has been the combination of custom-built instrumentation and how it all creates a tactile feel to his music. Now, this is going to create a whole bunch of double-speak and folding all over myself in order to wring out logical inconsistencies, given that everybody knows that any difficult part on an instrument can cause you to break a sweat, especially on guitar and bass as you contort your fingers into positions and shapes that are never used outside of your practice — but Author & Punisher’s “feel” appeals in the same way as a drummer’s does; because it feels more organic.
Every hit and note is something that has to be physically executed in some form or another, with movement. If you’ve ever seen the Author & Punisher rig, that means multiple sliding bars, rails, masks that need to be moved up and down, machines that seemingly need to be spun up and filtered through a laptop, and other implements. It looks like a mad-science experiment, but watching it in use has the same appeal to me as watching someone play a drum kit, in that everything has that one-to-one feel to it — one hit produces one really loud sound. So, even though Author & Punisher’s music may be of the slow, industrial, and droning variety, something in my mind is imagining every note as the product of an intensely labored effort, and I imagine that at some point, in order to perform this, you have to become “one with the machine”. The last Author & Punisher disc felt like all of that coming to a head, as the anguished yells on Women And Children sounded like the artist being absorbed and fused into his own machine.
With all of this in mind, I normally expect Author & Punisher music to be mostly a slow, suffocating affair — which is why I was so goddamned excited when “Callous And Hoof” kicked my ass all over the place for its first three minutes before returning to the Author & Punisher modus operandi of slow strangulation.
“Callous and Hoof” was one of the first singles released from Melk En Honing and was a hell of a way to come back to this project, as it’s a tonal shift from much of Women And Children, with the dub and drone machines getting a serious workout in the aforementioned opening section. For its first few minutes the whole song thrashes back and forth like an auditory seizure as Tristan screams over the top of it. In these moments the machines could be thought of as full-blown analogues for a regular metal band, and believe it or not, this is not the only time something like this arises on Melk En Honing. And with the disc containing more vocals, it actually makes large swaths of the music sound a bit more traditional compared to most Author & Punisher fare.
One of my favorite moments on the album is the opening of closer “Void, Null, Alive” — itself labeled with a pretty awesome title — in which the drums are just absolutely thunderous and the vocals sound like something out of a hardcore band for a quick half-second, abrasive and confrontational. When it drops back into its slower tempo, “Void, Null, Alive” seems like it’s attempting to capture the feeling of being complacent and lost in a society of fake personas. During its back half it focuses heavily on creating a scene in which “Sun beats down on the brow/Palm trees bare it somehow’. This is all conjecture, but over the time I’ve had with this disc I keep coming back to the album’s ending focus on being “Void/Null/Alive/Not Awake”, especially since the very last sounds on the album are Tristan screaming, “Void, Null, Alive”. It’s a common sentiment for hollow people and one that likely draws from the same well as a message like Killswitch Engage’s album title “Alive or Just Breathing”, but it becomes an overall theme on Melk En Honing and worms its way through most of the songs in lyrical motifs.
With all my focus on the two faster-moving tracks on Melk En Honing, you’d be forgiven for thinking Author & Punisher had put out a thrash album, but obviously that’s not going to be the case. It’s just that both songs feel like a radical shift in formula, that they’re exciting beyond any missteps you think they might make in terms of pacing. Most of Melk En Honing consists of what people come to Author & Punisher for — the slow-moving, laborious, drone that feels like it’s slowly worming its way into your spine and petrifying you from the inside out. Thanks to its bass-heavy drone, it’s still a suffocating listen — one that fully envelops you and is one of the most easily recommended headphones-albums out there.
Opening track “The Barge”, for instance, should be like returning to a nice, warm, and cozy home, as it runs about eight minutes long and its words are sparse; the drumming is almost ritualistic as it slowly taps out its main rhythms. “Shame”, on the other hand, may quickly join the collection of songs that happen to be my favorites that have come out this year. “Shame”‘s opening segment of distorted electronics takes on an industrial typewriter-like rhythm that I will ashamedly admit starts to sound like my own fingers moving across a keyboard like a zombie in some of my longer writing sessions when I realize I have nothing to say, yet my fingers won’t stop moving. If I mention that “Shame” was the soundtrack to the last few sentences, that might help explain a whole lot to readers.
“Shame” was the beneficiary of a music video, itself about as odd as the song, and it also is the slow-moving precursor to the explosion of “Callous And Hoof”. It is one of those songs that just absolutely wallows in its own mood for the duration of its existence. “Future Man”, with its lovely message of “It’s a miracle we’ve come this far, given how far we’ve fallen’, actually has something of a hook to it, and much of the singing on that song feels like the humidity of a sludge album crashing headlong into the Author & Punisher format. It sounds like a batshit-nuts thing to say that you could feasibly sing along to an Author & Punisher disc (as opposed to just contributing to the cacophony, as before), but there actually are a couple of genuine hooks and melodies on Melk En Honing — and “Future Man” contains one of them.
Melk En Honing is one of those albums that I absolutely want to see performed live. Of course, I wouldn’t complain if I saw Author & Punisher live regardless, but it seems that we are destined to be two ships in the night at the moment. However, the music here, like much of the Author & Punisher dronefest discog, is absolutely fascinating, and because it’s more approachable, it just gives me specific songs to come back to on top of the usual full-disc run. These sorts of sound experiments are the type that must be listened to. It’s difficult to describe them to other people, but the fact that the Author & Punisher formula works tends to amplify the desire to do that.
Melk En Honing is probably the most “traditional” of the Author & Punisher discs in terms of how the instruments become analogs to the more standard fare of guitar and bass, but the fact that it’s being generated by a bevy of machines and one guy shrieking into a bunch of masks is what makes it interesting. Whereas Women And Children felt like an artist being slowly absorbed by his machines, and what we heard were his anguished yells for freedom, Melk En Honing feels like a fight against a complacent life, and the machines have become the weapons. Most of it is still a slow-moving and suffocating experience, but the faster and heavier moments are big enough that they jar you back to life. You can’t help but get excited by the “heavier” moments on this album. It’s a different approach to the Author & Punisher sound, but Melk En Honing still excels as a piece of music.
Melk En Honing is out now on Philip H Anselmo’s Housecore Records.