The struggle for dominance between man and machine is rarely so effectively conveyed than through music, as the impetus for human performance and lyrical connection to exceed the precision of ever improving technology remains strong. This dichotomy is further compounded by the often inharmonious balance between heaviness and aggression with melody and emotional vulnerability. Over his six preceding albums as Author & Punisher, Tristan Shone has explored these contrasts in varying degrees, but Krüller may yet be his most concentrated effort to achieve that more perfect union of the organic and the synthetic, and to find the emotional center between bitter despair and unwavering hope.
To that end, one of the key components of Krüller is the presence of more organic instruments to supplement Shone’s renowned use of his unorthodoxly designed drone machines; though some might consider this a step toward sonic mundanity, Shone and co-producer Jason “Vytear” Begin do well to integrate these sounds into the cybernetic devastation of Author & Punisher’s sound quite flawlessly. As I Lay Dying guitarist Phil Sgrosso adorns the album not with pervasive grinding metalcore riffs, but with textures that complement Shone’s miasmal and mechanical atmospheres, sirenesque and assertive as if to remind listeners that there are human souls languishing in the dystopic backdrop. This is especially poignant on the opening “Drone Carrying Dread” and the closing title track, both cinematic in scope, opposite in their emotive focus, yet intimate in their presentation of spectral washes of ambience, crushing distortion, and trickling guitar phrases; the latter track brings us to a most disconcerting conclusion with chilly pianos and the sound of a recorded message instilling a lingering sense of dread as Shone asks, “Did I make your body sweat? Did I break your system yet?” TOOL bassist Justin Chancellor adds nicely to the incessant rhythmic menace and tension of “Centurion,” while that band’s Danny Carey brings his percussive prowess into “Misery,” his organic punch meshing with the guttural and mechanical thrust, all building to what is a darkly striking yet somehow catchy track, the ending especially powerful in its abruptness. Vytear’s plucks of guitar create a moody and pensive progression on “Blacksmith,” upon which Shone gradually drives us to the brink of mechanized insanity with ascending layers of static, glitches, metal shrieks, the vocals and guitars shared in their howling release by the song’s end. It’s as if to suggest the machine’s inability to process the human equation, yet still reliant on man as a controlling, balancing force against cold, technical precision. And then there is the cover of Portishead’s “Glorybox,” the song’s bluesy noir and feminine vibe accentuated somehow by the more languorous pace, the layered guitars both dissonant and harmonic, and Shone’s impassioned wails of “I just wanna be a woman” and “give me a reason to love you” as if to defiantly embrace vulnerability amid sonic muscularity.
Even Zlatko Mitev’s artwork prevails upon themes of the organic vs. the synthetic, as mountainous alien panoramas are populated by tanklike tractors, his style an almost architectural amalgam of straight lines coalescing into perfectly imperfect shapes; one is easily reminded of the cyberpunk sci-fi creations of Syd Mead crossed with the more mystical visions of Jean “Mœbius” Giraud, making for an excellent visual accompaniment to Krüller. On the surface, the album may not present a profound shift for Author & Punisher – simply a more proficient execution of the themes and techniques Shone has displayed in the past – but that in itself is admirable given its singularity among the more traditional modes that persist in the musical landscape. Quite simply, bold a statement though this may be, Krüller is Author & Punisher’s most conceptually satisfying and sonically adventurous effort yet.