The newest release by Author & Punisher, “Beastland”, is probably one of the most crushing pieces of work that I’ve heard this year and certainly the most unique by far.
A little backstory before we jump into it. The man behind the project is Tristan Shone, a mechanical engineer who was featured in a recent Noisey documentary which covered both his artistic career and his engineering career. He works in the medical field and messes with all sorts of equipment, mainly manufacturing replacement parts that are otherwise unavailable.
If Shone is Dr Jekyll, then Author & Punisher is well and truly Mr Hyde. It is an electronic doom project that is utterly relentless and methodical in its expression of dark themes. Using his engineering background to create instrument controllers that include huge levers, a hand grip laced with trigger buttons that plays sounds when smashed back and forth on a rail, an eight-piece microphone that controls synths and even a damn contact mic that he straps to his larynx! Interesting, but not scary. The scary part is his performances itself; because his equipment is heavy and difficult to operate, there is a constant strain on him physically that translates viciously into the music with clearly visible frustration and anger.
With that out of the way, “Beastland” is slow, grinding, highly atmospheric and has a will to tear flesh from limb with a blend contrasting rhythms, noise and melody. It’s basically bedtime music for psychopaths starting off with the two-step rhythm of Pharmacide, the near unrelenting and hopeless cry of Nihil Strength, the disgusting bass-driven/anxiety filled Ode to Bedlam and my personal favourite, The Speaker is Systematically Blown. It takes on the characteristics of early Marilyn Manson crossed with Downward Spiral era Nine Inch Nails.
Many of the compositions are repetitive but the way that repetition is employed is intelligent and thoughtful in a way that allows the listener to explore the soundscape in each track thoroughly. The vocals are mainly screamed and completely drenched in distortion throughout. It can be difficult to make out the words which normally is a negative for me, but the distortion types and effects are used like an instrument so the dependency of diction and clarity doesn’t end up becoming a pivotal requirement in order to get the point of what’s being expressed. Though during the times when melodic singing is employed, such as in the chorus of Nazarene and sections of Night Terror, it is absolutely intoxicating and invigorating.
The sound design is one of the most innovative I’ve heard in some time and borrows heavily from electronic music, reminding me of a slowed down KMFDM that substitutes the profane with the insane. It’s a very uncomfortable, impacting, confronting and unflinching outburst of irreverence that is artful in execution. Though primarily distorted at all times, there is an unexpected usage of volume dynamics that, in itself, is used as an instrument to emphasise the perceived heaviness of the synths. To me, this sense of weight is the albums greatest triumph and a dimension in the sound that is unique in delivery.
It’s not exactly a headbanging marvel or a sing along that many people will be looking for in heavy music, but it cannot be understated that this is as heavy as music gets. The album offers no apologies or concession for the listener – “Beastland” is an engrossing demonstration of how deliberately paced songwriting and structure can be used to enact a heavy atmosphere, not simply impose one. There are plenty of tropes it refuses to engage that typically get tunes and melodies stuck in the heads of listeners, but one doesn’t need tropes when forcefully inserting a lead pipe into a listener’s skull the way Author & Punisher does, metaphorically speaking of course (or at least I bloody well hope!)
Grab your copy of BEASTLAND HERE.