For two years, René Pawlowitz seemed to have taken a break from Shed. “The Traveller”, the brilliant follow-up to “Shedding The Past”, came out in 2010, and after that came silence, though not René's silence. He took the opportunity to explore other areas of his creativity, putting order in the closet where he keeps his material released as EQD (with a complete compilation late 2011) and Wax, at the same time reactivating an old alias, WK7, which took him back in time, to the more hardcore days. In those 18 months of disconnection from Shed, which has always been his most experimental and not dance floor oriented project (though it's always been dance music; intelligent techno, as it was called before), it's as if Pawlowitz found his primal force again, the muscle and the swollen vein. All his different monikers came together on an album that sounds like Shed, of course, but a more robust Shed, with his feet on the ground, without the need to look up at the sky all the time (the ambient, beatless version of “The Praetorian (LP Mix)”, is precisely the exception, the wink, the contradiction to the brutal techno of last February's single). The titles speak for themselves: from “The Traveller”, an oneiric and adventurous record inspired by cosmic Detroit techno, to “The Killer”, a new album that's here to beat you to death.
It's not exactly a hard techno record, nor is it excessively violent, but it is rougher and sharper than the two titles released earlier on Ostgut Ton. Maybe his entering the 50 Weapons family has had an influence on the final texture of “The Killer”, or maybe it's the other way around, maybe the fibrous “The Killer” was perfect for the fat and rough catalogue of Modeselektor's label. However, Shed never offers even a tiny nod to the latest bass currents in club music: not to juke, and not to dubstep or any of its derivatives. His sound is the same as ever and his faith in techno as a universal language has no limits. Now, as said, he's more earthbound than before, and among the eleven tracks on the album, few offer an alternative to the Berghain 4x4. Which is ironic: leaving a label so closely linked to the new German techno, so representative of nightly calorie-burning in dark clubs, to join another one that is much crazier and eclectic, to release an album that only leaves the straight path towards the end (“Follow The Leader” is a piano track that goes out of tune as it moves on, sustained by a very 90s-like breakbeat, much in the vein of Innerzone Orchestra), after a confusing start with “STP3/The Killer”, a whirlwind of analogue noise, like the red storms of Jupiter, shaken by a bass line that makes your eardrums tremble. Everything else is concrete 4x4 like a blow to the stomach.
“Silent Witness” could be the aesthetic summary of “The Killer”: the beat sounds solid like a 1995 Jeff Mills production, but a tad slow and lazy, as if its nervousness were kept under control by a sedative. “I Come By Night”, on the other hand, is reminiscent of early Surgeon, Joey Beltram and Cristian Vogel on Tresor: techno unstable like nitro-glycerine, with bubbles in the background, and a beat that hits you like a hockey stick until you physically need a moment of peace, with “Gas Up”, two minutes of ambient in order to recompose yourself. But then it goes on again: “Day After” continues the madness so typical of 90s techno (think Adam X, DJ T-1000, Pacou, all the classics from the Berlin–Detroit–Brooklyn axis), and goes back even further on “Photoype”(techno with Black Dog breaks), “Ride On” (with its Saunderson-like bass lines), and “VIOMF!/The Filler” (reminiscent of the days of rave).
“The Killer” isn't Shed's best album, because the first two were of a level that is hard to equal, let alone beat. But the LP is another document explaining why Shed is different from the other producers: his knowledge is encyclopaedic, his control of the language is total, and here he's gone deeper into the past to get inspiration from a different kind of techno, harder, but not less evocative. Even though this record isn't sublime, one still has to admit that, once again, Shed is bordering on excellence. He couldn't do wrong even if he wanted to.