Author & Punisher has returned after a three-year gap with a mind-blowing new album in Krüller. Wielding upgraded machines, a new sensory stratagem, and a crafty curation of top-tier collaborators, proprietor Tristan Shone emerged from the time off refined and re-tooled. Krüller is hoisted defiantly on breakouts “Incinerator,” “Drone Carrying Dread,” “Maiden Star,” but menaces profoundly on “Blacksmith,” “Centurion,” and the title track. These are anthems for the decay and self-absorption of today. To celebrate and invite musicians and creators into his visceral and tactile world, Shone’s also launching a bespoke audio gear company called Drone Machines to coincide with the release of Krüller.
"Drone Machines is a boutique gear company started by myself and two others with skills in mechanical engineering and synth architecture," Shone says. "Using my current devices as a starting point, we have redesigned them to be much more robust and streamlined. The machines I use in Author & Punisher are pretty raw in construction, so we wanted to expand the functionality. As for Author & Punisher, I wanted to up the game. The time off [largely due to the global pandemic] allowed me to reshape my synth and drum sounds, my microphone, and the rest of the gear. I've made some new machine versions for practically every album, but I never got the chance to dig into the guts because I was always writing or touring: album cycles became a lot more important after the Drone Machines album. I finally got the chance to improve the machines I use with a team of like-minded folks. And most importantly, I wrote constantly. As the pandemic kept pushing out, I just kept on writing. I haven't spent this much time writing in a very long time."
Shone, the creative core of Author & Punisher, started the project in 2004, setting out to craft devices (machines) as a force multiplier. That he could control machines to trigger a myriad of sound objects (synths et al.) was not just heuristic but revolutionary. Shone’s mechanical engineering and art background functioned perfectly as a catalyst to his songwriter form. To date, Author & Punisher has seven lauded full-lengths and one EP, the latest of which is Krüller. Shone’s unconventional yet assiduous methods with music and machine have landed crucial collaborations with Pantera/Down vocalist Philip H. Anselmo, Perturbator’s James Kent, and Tool’s Danny Carey and Justin Chancellor, who appear on Krüller tracks “Misery” and “Centurion,” respectively.“There are collaborations on this record that mean a lot to me,” says Shone. “The song ‘Blacksmith’ is this jungle/IDM-like thing that is a real branch-out from what I normally do. That track features my producer Jason Begin (Vytear). My wife Marilia appears as a backing vocalist on ‘Maiden Star.’ Phil Sgrosso, my manager and guitarist of As I Lay Dying, wrote all the guitar parts on Krüller. Of course, as already mentioned, ‘Misery’ and ‘Centurion’ were collaborations with Danny Carey and Justin Chancellor from Tool. They turned out really cool. I’ll say with all these artists coming in and adding to Krüller; I think the Author & Punisher sound is still there."
Shone started the Krüller project mainly on the heels of pandemic ennui in May 2020. The original idea was to carry over “A Crude Sectioning” from his Adult Swim sessions. Still, the angle proved wrong for the vision to succeed Author & Punisher’s critically-acclaimed Beastland (2018). Advancement was critical, and so it was with the removal of harsh vocals. Shone’s digitized snarls rightfully had their place on tracks like “Doppler,” “Terrorbird,” and “Nihil Strength,” but contrasting mellow vocals atop Author & Punisher’s unparalleled heft made dynamic sense. Indeed, with Shone’s singing on songs like “Drone Carrying Dread,” “Maiden Star,” and the exceptional translation of Portishead hit “Glory Box,” Author & Punisher have projected an air of uncertainty around the steely, often slow-motion grind.
"Melody has been and is still a part of my sound," says Shone. "I've always bathed them in a lot of reverb, delay, and distortion, though. This time around, I was bothered by the wall of distortion I had created. I wanted a little more clarity. I wanted to refine the sound. I wanted to step back from my own show and analyze it a bit. I had all these competing distortions that I wanted to streamline. I like contrast and wanted the vocals to be immediately noticeable. There's something about mixing punishing drones and rumble with a mellow thing on top that I really like on Krüller.”
Thematically, Shone was inspired by Octavia E. Butler’s Parable series, particularly Parable of the Sower. Butler’s take on climate change and social inequality was prescient and relatable to Shone. Combined with the pandemic, government shutdowns, and responses to both (like the prepper culture), the lyrics materialized purposefully into an ominous if fearful motif. That they merge into the stony-hearted cover art—think Tarkus hewn through a rasterized image of ‘80s military tech—by illustrator Zlatko Mitev is yet more proof of Author & Punisher’s conceptual consistency.
“Krüller was originally a placeholder title like Melk en Honing,” Shone says. “I had originally thought I’d title it Drone Carrying Dread, but Phil [Sgrosso] was adamant that Krüller be the title. So, the title, Krüller, is a made-up word tied to whatever world that’s represented on the cover. I try not to talk about the apocalyptic stuff too much because it’s such a cliché. Still, after reading Parable of the Sower, I started to think about self-sustainability a lot. I guess we all were. Some people bought guns, some moved out to the country and learned how to farm, and it was something that I was thinking about. When the geared-up Sprinter vans and tactically-colored Toyota Tacomas started to drive around, I was fascinated by that movement, but I was also unsure of the motives. Krüller is kind of a reaction to all that.”
Author & Punisher went to K Street Recordings to write and record Krüller in San Diego, while producer Jason Begin wrote and recorded synths, electronics, and drums at Black Unicorn Studios in New Mexico. The guitars were then written and recorded by Sgrosso in Carlsbad, as Justin Chancellor tracked his bass at The Garden of Weeden in Topanga and Danny Carey tracked drums with Tim Dawson at the LOFT in Los Angeles. John Cota (Death Eyes) engineered and played additional drums on “Drone Carrying Dread” and “Incinerator” at K Street Recordings. Shone then on-boarded ace Brad Boatright (Monolord, Yautja) at Audiosiege in Portland to master Krüller. The goal was to employ collaborators who understood and could enhance Shone’s physical-sounding production.
"K Street Recordings is a collective," says Shone. "It's a basic studio, but for what I do, I had unlimited use of it. Then, I went to Jason's Black Unicorn Studios. I brought everything to him, and he tweaked the sounds. I work in software, so he was able to run all that through a plethora of vintage and modular synths. Me and Jason mixed Krüller the way I wanted. I wanted the bass to come forward in the mix. I wanted to feel that in the production. Often, that hasn’t come across with previous Author & Punisher productions. I’m really happy with the production on Krüller. It has tangibility to it.”
Shone is readying the Author & Punisher arsenal to support Krüller on the road. He'll add guitarist Douglas Sabolick (Ecstatic Vision) to the on-stage lineup. Current plans are to hit Europe in February, March, and April, the Oblivion Access 2022 festival in May, with a smattering of U.S.-based shows around that event. There will be another European tour with Perturbator and Health in the fall. Krüller is coming…