The industrial music and metal sculptures of Tristan Shone can sound and look scary. But there are songs and even soul lurking beneath the grim façade.
If you or I wanted to mess with the pitch of an electronic bass signal, we’d probably plug in the nearest $50 MIDI controller and have at it. But we are not Author & Punisher. When Tristan Shone, who has made music under that justly severe moniker since 2005, wants to mess with such a pitch, he gears two high-torque motors to a pair of throttles, giving them autopilot and force-feedback functions. When he performs, it looks like he’s trying to fly an X-Wing with a bad steering rack into the Death Star.
Though he had already issued a few albums of moody industrial music before 2010, those throttles were the first “drone machines” the San Diego-based robotics engineer with a master’s degree in sculpture designed and fabricated. Shone literalized the idea of sonic sculpture, fusing the ethereal and the physical into an industrial metal vision. This tension characterizes Shone’s cursed soundscapes, too, which rampage between rhythm and randomness, melody and mayhem, infernal depths and screaming heights.
Eight years and a half-dozen releases later, Shone has released his Relapse debut, Beastland. His arsenal has grown to include so many forbidding prosthetics and devices he’s like a Rube Goldberg war machine stamping out arty Godflesh songs in stainless steel, his industrial core sprouting tumors of doom, drone, noise, and, covertly, pop. Metal vocals are recessed inside demonic sub-bass, concussive percussion, and skirling frequencies. Whether simmering or exploding, these eight three-to-six-minute tracks are exercises in perpetual combustion, a burning darkness expending some unnaturally limitless fuel.
Most of Shone’s creations are not instruments, per se. Some merely capture vocals in the most ominous sense of the verb, portending torture to follow—his elephantine drone mask, his fetish-y trachea mic, his Bane-style headgear. Others control electronic sounds. His “Linear Actuator” is visually suggestive of both a railgun and a tank tread, while “Rails” looks like some cruel factory press poised to remove a machine worker’s arm. These devices are not just for show; they meaningfully shape the sounds Shone makes. Instead of being designed for ease, his controllers fight back, offering physical resistance and semi-predictable outcomes, sewing chaos instead of order.
But make no mistake: In part, they very much are for show, concretizing the sonic shocks of his albums, which can’t help but pale beside his live sets. The pronounced vibe of James Wan-style medical horror and medieval torture loudly states the music’s creepy aspirations, as if the nightmare-fuel vocal sample that appears a couple of times, first on “Nihil Strength,” leaves any doubt as to what kind of story this is. Shone valorizes the effort of both creation and consumption, pitched against an increasingly frictionless world. “Pharmacide” opens Beastland with a bass frequency I can't listen to on headphones, at any volume; it feels like a black hole opening in my brain. This is not just a performance of sound, but of struggle between human and machine.
Or, let’s be honest, man and machine. I’m not usually drawn to bellicose, self-consciously transgressive personas and sounds. I like music with a lot of softness, space, and curves. But under all the aggressive metal gestures here, it’s impossible to miss the songful gestures embedded in Beastland. Shone’s cold fury lashes the listener, but it’s laced with warmer emotional undercurrents of nostalgia for the raw, ragged soul of 1990s alt and indie rock. At its most inviting, Beastland sounds like the Melvins, Dinosaur Jr., or fucking Candlebox playing a festival stage over from Sunn O))), mostly getting drowned out.
Tell me you don’t hear it on “Ode to Bedlam” or “The Speaker is Systematically Blown,” a prettiness pooled beneath poisoned tonality, righteous chord progressions trying to pound through the calamity. Or tell me you don’t hear a humanizing hint of self-conscious comedy in the overstated ghoulishness of that “Nihil Strength” sample. No one without a sense of humor would fashion oversize control knobs sheerly to mock brow-knitting DJs, anyway. I’ve got one for him, then: Make something out of nine-inch nails.
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