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Posts Tagged ‘Godflesh’

Chances are, somewhere along the way you’ve gotten cynical. I don’t know where you’ve come from, and I don’t know where you’re going, but I’ll bet you’ve found yourself staring straight at the concrete slab of ennui. There’s nothing new to hear, no new depths of extremity to be sounded. There’s no more ‘more’, anymore; no more ‘other’ or ‘also’ or ‘what?’ You start walking enough miles in this mucky thicket of heavy metal, or even its motherland – ‘extreme music’ – and many tributaries, and the dull sting of your own soured imaginings is bound to raise its grizzled countenance.

This earth has life, though. New things will stir; bold sapling shoots of equal parts frailty and reckless invention are pushing even now through the cakey topsoil, audacious and recombinant.

Cover art for 2012 album ‘Ursus Americanus’

Enough with the bullshit: Author & Punisher is the mantle adopted by San Diego’s Tristan Shone. Shone has designed and created all the instruments – all the machines – you hear in his one-man outpouring of precise mechanical destruction. Watch a few videos of him recreating these widescreen dystopias in the live setting, and you wouldn’t be alone in picturing Shone as a bleak 21st century version of Dick Van Dyke’s one-man band carryings-on from Mary Poppins.

Spinal Tapdance sent the following questions to Tristan Shone’s techno-bunker; SkyNet obliged to let through the following responses.

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Spinal Tapdance: Which came first for you, an interest in building machines or making music? Did you start out wanting to make music only to discover that you were limited by the equipment available to you, or did you start out tinkering with machines and then realize some of them could be turned toward songwriting?

Tristan Shone: I have always made gadgets (since like 2nd grade) and started piano around the same time.  I started writing songs on piano in high school, and shortly after picked up guitar and bass.  It wasn’t until I had really learned to design and fabricate real machines and robots that I even began thinking of combining the two, which was maybe 10 years ago.  The moment of clarity came in art grad school after working in high tech cubicle cleanroom hell (not all boiling hell) for 5 years when really had the chance to reflect on my connection with my own music.  I spent a lot of time with my bass, guitar, laptop and a huge soundsystem.  I was playing along with sequences and although I enjoy that and still do that now form time to time, there wasn’t enough of my own live, instantaneous, live input; the spastic, “create a clusterfuck in that exact moment” involved with the sequenced setup. I then got rid of my guitar and made a machine that I had to move to make sound…and then another…and then another.  They all had a specific purpose and design aesthetic.  That was it.

ST:  Much of Author & Punisher’s music obviously has more in common with some of the heavier styles of electronic and experimental music (dub, drum and bass, dark ambient, industrial, and so forth) than it does with metal. Do you think of A&P as having a closer affinity to one style or the other?

TS:  My base will always be the 80s/90s doom of Neurosis, Melvins, Godflesh, as I broke my teeth on that stuff and never got it out of my system, but since like ‘98 or so I have been focused mainly on all sorts of dark electronic, as you mentioned.  It’s much harder for me to find a good, innovative metal band these days, but then again, there are so many goddamn doom bands with crosses on their heads, it’s hard to pick through. 🙂

ST: Your previous full-length album Drone Machines was an all-out assault for nearly its entire length; Ursus Americanus has a bit more ebb and flow, with songs like “Mercy Dub” and “Below and Above You” providing a less oppressive (though still menacing) atmosphere.  Was that an intentional songwriting choice, or is it a result of using different hardware for each album?  More generally, I suppose, does your songwriting process dictate the types of machines you build, or do your new constructions open up new possibilities?

TS: Good question.  Each album is dictated by the machines: Drone Machines are very heavy and slow to move, so the sound is a bit more drrrroooonnneeee and heavy, whereas the new album Ursus Americanus was played on the Dub Machines, which were designed to be lighter, enable a quicker dynamic, and give me to wider spectrum.  I wanted Ursus to really be an album representing exactly what I would play live with little to no overdubs.  I love how raw and simple Ursus sounds to me; it is not clogged, and that really works out well in a live atmosphere, because with too many sequences and things that I can’t really control, the live performance loses punch.  The reason I bring this up, is that Drone Machines has some songs that I love, like “Doppler” and “Burrow Below,” that were written before I started making machines and have a lot of layering, giving them a unique sound, yet a conflicting live setup for me.  Half of the DM album is exactly like the Ursus album, all live, no sequence…When I tour the vinyl release of Drone Machines next year, I may bring my bass and do those two songs, because I miss their heaviness.

ST: Your vocals also take a much less prominent role in Ursus Americanus than they did on previous albums.  Was that a conscious decision, turning your voice even more into a supporting texture rather than a rhythmic or storytelling vehicle (as on “Lonely” and “Set Flames,” for example)?

TS: Yes, I just didn’t want to be forced to write lyrics for song structure-sake and I guess I didn’t have much to say on this album other than “Lonely”, ha.  I feel much more meaning in the mood of my music and effect of the sound.  That being said, I probably use my voice more on this album.  I like to think of it like a good dub or hip hop track where maybe there is one line and then a string track and you think: “yeah it’s Sunday afternoon and I’m going to eat fried clams,” bam. No lyrics necessary.

ST: Godflesh seems like an almost unavoidable comparison, but were there any other acts in particular that originally piqued your interest in this type of metal/heavy electronics fusion?  The absolutely massive climax of album centerpiece “Set Flames,” for example, reminds me a bit of Neurosis, albeit fed through some horrific digital wood-chipper.

TS: Exactly.  I mean, I liked those aforementioned bands a lot, along with His Hero is Gone, Jesu, Nile, Meshuggah, but I it was always alongside a lot of drum and bass, dub, dubstep, electro, some industrial.  One that sticks out was Ed Rush and Optical, they had some great dark simple tracks. I really like some gabber stuff, but I really missed the boat on that as I was listening to US metal and hardcore.  I really wanted my high school band, which was a blast and I will always remember, to play super heavy slow stuff, like the last track off of every Godflesh album that lasted 20 minutes, but it was actually really hard to find people to play with that were into that. I kind of gave into it from like ’96 to ’03, until I broke up with the last band and knew that was it, A&P from then on.  I’ll just walk around a lot of the time and come up with all sorts of different heavy riffs…the shower is a good place for that.

ST: The aesthetic appeal of Author & Punisher seems pretty clearly tied to the fusion of the human/organic and the mechanical.  What is it about that fusion that appeals to you?  Is it about surpassing the limitations of the organic? Is it a fetishization of machines and industry?  Is there anything about it that’s cautionary or anxious about the impact of technology on humanity?

TS: I am trying to be as natural as possible with my designs, meaning that I like to avoid relational aesthetics as a practice.  I like quality materials that and I like machines that are made with extreme prejudice and precision and attention to detail so that they function flawlessly.  This can be a shaft spinning smoothly on a bearing so that there is no slop, or a handle that feel cold in your hand, so you know it’s steel or brass, etc. etc.  If this is fetishistic, then I guess that can be said, but for me, as an engineer and musician, it is good engineering practice applied to the world of electronic music where things are fabricated out of total shit plastic.  I have said this before, but if I had more time I would release A&P vacuum cleaners and blenders because they are also total pieces of shit and can be designed out of better stuff.  In terms of human machine, that is also just simple HCI design (Human Computer Interaction), where you try to improve that relationship so it works better.

ST: I mean, let’s be honest: isn’t this whole machine-music thing just your attempt to be shown mercy by our new robotic overlords following the inevitable technopocalpyse?

TS: I’m afraid my robots are too simple to be even shown the slightest bit of mercy…the robot oppressors will be bacteria-powered, virus-driven, super-efficient bio-machines that will just urinate and destroy all.

ST: Is there any particular machine you’ve invented of which you’re the most proud, or maybe one that was the most difficult to get just right?

TS:I have a special relationship with all of the machines, but probably like the Rails the best: rock solid.  The Throttles is a pain the ass and needs some work internally to fix the motors and linkages, which will need to happen soon before the Spring DM tour!

ST: Do you think of your studio albums and live performances in mostly the same terms?  That is, do you think the experience of hearing Author & Punisher in the live context is a significantly different experience from listening to the album?

TS: I think of them as the same, but the listener can’t possibly, because live you are watching the sound be made by the movement or hit, meanwhile getting knocked in the gut by a wall of sound. Listening to the album you have to imagine this and you may not get the same effect, however the albums are a somewhat “perfected” version of the live songs, so that can be a more balanced experience.

ST: Are there any current plans for touring the Ursus Americanus material?  Do you think it’s any more or less difficult for you to tour than for a band with a more traditional instrumental set up?

TS: Touring is increasing exponentially right now with a few shows on the East Coast and fests coming up.  Stay tuned.  It’s pretty easy for me to tour actually, since I don’t need speakers since a lot of clubs have good sound.  I do bring my sound system for the odd bar that has tweeters blown or douchebag sound guy :).

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Many thanks to Tristan for answering our questions, and to Kim Kelly of Catharsis PR for wrangling and mediation.  Author & Punisher recently released a professionally-done (and quite unsettling) video for Ursus Americanus‘s “Terrorbird”:

For more information on Author & Punisher (and Tristan’s other exploits), head to the man’s website.  You can purchase Ursus Americanus from Seventh Rule Recordings here, or stream and/or purchase it and previous A&P albums at Tristan’s Bandcamp page.

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In which, because I am quiveringly beaming, I report on a recent two-part bacchanal of record shopping.

Part the first, in which is enumerated a list of the albums purchased at Cheapo Discs in sunny, snowy Saint Paul, MN over the recent Thanksgiving holiday:

Burning up that open road

Wolf Parade, Expo 86
Múm, Summer Make Good
Gotan Project, La Revancha Del Tango
Current 93, Nature Unveiled
The Jesus Lizard, Liar
Morbid Angel, Abominations Of Desolation
Godflesh, In All Languages
Dan Deacon, Bromst
Múm, Go Go Smear The Poison Ivy
Kraftwerk, Autobahn
Laibach, WAT

And, part the second, in which is enumerated a list of the albums recently acquired from The End Records scandalously absurd clearance sale (still ongoing, winkwinknudgenudge):

A gorgeous shade of green

Journey To Ixtlan, Journey To Ixtlan
Adversarial, All Idols Fall Before The Hammer
Bible Of The Devil, The Diabolic Procession
Efterklang, Magic Chairs
James Blackshaw, O True Believers
Foscor, Groans To The Guilty
The Human Quena Orchestra, The Politics Of The Irredeemable
Tronus Abyss, Vuoto Spazio Trionfo
Thrall, Away From The Haunts Of Men
Pestilence, Malleus Malleficarum
Hecq, Steeltongued

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Record shopping’s only dead if we stop doing it, friends.  Where do you go to scratch that itch?

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Devin Townsend, Terria (2001)

Like a child, you're born again

My snail’s-pace trudge through Devin Townsend’s solo discography continues after some delay with 2001’s Terria.  I think I’ve been subconsciously avoiding this for a while, because for some reason, this album has always been one of the toughest of Devin’s solo albums for me to wrap my head around.

In general, this album is much more abstract and relaxed than much of Devin’s other solo work, and as a result needs to be approached somewhat differently.  Many of my hang-ups with this record, I think, stem from the fact that I kept trying to approach this album as a collection of songs, which, in comparison to the majority of Devin’s other records, this is not.  This album is much more a mood piece, a largely ambient and consistently-paced exercise in atmosphere.

Now, by calling this ‘ambient’, I don’t mean that it’s all floaty keyboards and nature sounds.  In fact, the heavy metal instrumentation and wall-of-sound production from Devin’s other work remains on display here as always; it’s just that those elements are combined in such a way as to produce an hour-long meditation on the themes of home and place.

Things get off to an odd start with the opening duo of “Olives” and “Mountain.”  I’m not exactly sure why Devin offer me a martini by way of opening the record, but hell, why not?  I’ll take mine dry as a Mormon, with a twist of prog, if you don’t mind.  “Mountain” still feels more like an introduction than a proper song, as it’s mostly instrumental with some bizarre sampled stuff in the background.  But have no fear: when “Earth Day” finally kicks in, it’s got absolutely all of the cinematic grandeur and blustery metal melodrama we’ve come to love and expect from Devin.

Unfortunately, this album has one major drawback.  The production has a very odd quirk to it which I find rather difficult to ignore.  Something about how the drums are mixed seems to make the sound levels of the other instruments fluctuate, such that when the drums are hit, the sound level of other instruments falls sharply into the background, then reemerges at the normal level when the drums are on off-beats.  It’s unpleasant to my ears, because when the levels dip, I automatically try to follow more intently what’s going on, but the levels are back up on the very next beat.  It’s off-putting, and casts an unfortunate shadow on the album.

Still, when that chorus to “Earth Day” swings around, it’s hard not to crack a huge idiot grin.  Devin consistently manages to combine exceedingly earnest melodies with somewhat off-the-wall lyrical content (“Eat your beets / Recycle, recycle”), so that for every quirk which pushes me away from this album, there’s always another hook waiting to pull me back in.

As I’ve said, the album gravitates toward a slow, deliberate groove, and one can’t help but get the impression that its title, Terria, is meant as a sort of reflection on the notion of home – but whether that home is Canada, Earth, or the universe at large remains an open question.

The album never gets particularly heavy, but this is more an observation than a criticism.  The drums are well-matched to the laid-back tone of most of the songs, although it does seem that the prodigious talents of a certain Mr. Gene Fucking Hoglan are being put to ill use.  In a strange way, this album’s relatively even-handed tone and deliberate pacing are the very attributes which make it a somewhat avant-garde entry into Devin Townsend’s discography.

The instrumental track “Down and Under” is really one of the only places where I feel the character of the fretless bass, which is a shame.  It seems like the album could have taken advantage of the note-bending and glissando possibilities of the fretless instrument.  Another notable aspect of the album is that Devin appears to have gone a bit sampler-happy.  This is especially true on “Deep Peace,” which overlays some incredibly live-sounding plugged-in acoustic strumming with everyone’s favorite new age signifier, whale song.  About midway-through the track, though, Devin busts out some soothing arpeggios to mollify the potentially impatient listener.

Things get nice and penitent toward the end of “Tiny Tears” (most definitely NOT a Godflesh cover, mind) with the chants of “Kyrie eleison” (“Lord, have mercy), while the closing track, “Stagnant,” most resembles a pop/rock song with some bluesily elastic vocal turns from Devin straddling beautifully that fine line between parody and sincerity.

(“Universal” is a bonus track on my version of Terria.  Like so many of the bonus tracks on previous Townsend releases, this is a bizarre cast-off, which, in thise case, sounds like an acoustic country/boogie tune buried deep in the background and swathed in spaced-out ambience and dripping water [?] noises.  Just in case you thought Devin had gone mainstream, I suppose.)

Terria is much more about mood and ambience than the previous few solo Devin Townsend records (and most of those which follow, as a matter of fact).  Devin’s lyrics tend, as always, to veer somewhat precariously between the abstract and the personal, but in an endearing fashion.  This may be the Devin record that I spin least frequently, but it still hits the spot when the mood is right.  And, it seems to me, it’s no accident that following this record, Devin went through another slight name change, reemerging in 2003 as The Devin Townsend Band (that last word being quite crucial) for Accelerated Evolution.  More on which to come.

Overall rating: 70%.  Remember the space whale song in Star Trek IV?

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That's right, folks: rifles, not skyscrapers.

1) The debut album by Blood Revolt, entitled Indoctrine and out now on Profound Lore Records, is an absolute fucking FACE-MELTER.  The barrage of equal parts black and death metal (thanks to the instrumental prowess/degradation of former members of Canadian outfits Revenge and Axis Of Advance) is profoundly (har har) disorienting, but in a manner that always seems intentional.  The vocals of Alan Averill (of Irish pagan/black metallers Primordial) are a real treat, displaying not quite the same epic, soaring melodicisms of Primordial, but a broader range of spoken word, faster lyrical phrasing, and an all-around more aggressive vocal approach.

I suspect that I’ll be writing up an actual review of this album once it’s been given time to sink its gnarled teeth a bit further into my skin.  The real comment that I wanted to make here, however, is just to note how much of a pleasure it is to listen to an album whose pacing has been very thoughtfully constructed.  What I mean is, this album’s eight tracks seem to have been very intentionally arranged so that even when played on CD, the first four and latter four tracks play like sides A and B of an LP.  It’s a very nice symmetry which only works to enhance the nicely understated ‘concept album’ nature, as well as giving the listener the smallest of chances to catch his or her breath in between these slabs of furious metal onslaught.  This is definitely not to be missed.

Order it here, and learn more here.
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2) A little while back, I was whinging on and on about nostalgia, and about never having the opportunity any longer to be well and truly surprised by music (e.g., the time I bought my first Dream Theater or Swans album, never having heard of either).  Well, just a few days ago I was shopping at Reckless Records down in the loop, and happened to spot two (2!) brand new albums up on their ‘New Releases’ wall that I had not even the slightest inkling were being released.

One of these was a brand new album from David Tibet’s wonderfully cryptic and singular Current 93, entitled Baalstorm, Sing Omega.  So recent are these purchases, in fact, that I haven’t even listened to it yet.  I really just wanted to register my glee at having found this brand new full-length statement, fully formed and ready for the embrace of my earnest dollars.

The newest from everyone's favorite Coptic scholar and apocalyptic folkster

The second is the debut (and eponymous) album from a project called The Blood Of Heroes, which features Justin Broadrick (of Godflesh/Jesu/&c./&c.) on guitar, Bill Laswell (of, well, a fuckload of stuff) on bass, electronic artists Submerged and Enduser on, well, electronics, along with other electronic, live drums, and vocal collaborators.  I’ve only spun the thing once so far, but it’s a pretty interesting fusion of some of latter-day Godflesh’s dub-inflected experimentation, some of Jesu’s yearning melodies, with a bit of noise rock, not-quite-dancehall-but-close vocals, and a tasteful dollop of the slightly-less frenetic side of the breakcore/IDM/drum ‘n bass/whatever scene.

Toward a dark electro / post-industrial / metal synthetics.

I mean, clearly this is not exactly the same thing, since I already know (more or less) what Current 93 sounds like, and although The Blood Of Heroes is a new project, knowing a fair bit about several of the contributors gave me a pretty good sense of what the overall vibe might be.  Still, point is: Surprises are still possible in this here world of ours.

Or, maybe the moral is: If you don’t try and pay attention to every goddamned thing in the world of music, you’ll stumble across these gems, these bolts from the blue, more often.

3) On that same trip to Reckless, I came across a used copy of Summoning’s Dol Guldur in the clearance bin for $0.99.  Nothing much to add there, other than ‘Fuck yeah!’  These Austrian synth-obsessed symphonic/black metallers are equally obsessed with JRR Tolkien, so I’m just downright pleased as punch to have gotten so much Middle-Earth bang for my Regular Earth buck.

Sounds even better for $1

4) Overwrought expressions of grief always end up being more insulting, so I will just say that I offer my condolences to the family, friends, and band mates of Makh Daniels, vocalist of the promising band Early Graves.  Daniels was killed in a car accident earlier today while on tour.  The music world should mourn the loss of a very talented musician, but of course that all pales next to the real, human loss of those who knew him.

Ave atque vale.

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