Growing up in a post-dictatorship Catholic country can leave a person with dysfunctional values so deeply rooted that the damage only becomes obvious when you most crave normality. As I processed my upbringing in 1990s Portugal, I found solace in music, art and culture, seeking role models with stories of ache, struggle and emotional pain that, in the end, morphed into narratives of hope. Adversity can be a powerful exercise in empathy, but it has started with overcoming one thing: shame.

In my teens, music became a core essential as I fought to understand myself. I found comfort (and still do) in older references such as Kate Bush, Cocteau Twins, Depeche Mode, David Bowie or Grace Jones. I also picked up from Björk’s idiosyncrasy, the Placebo angst, Patrick Wolf and his vulnerability, and in particular, in Alice Glass and the no-fucks-given Crystal Castles visceral attitude. From them came models of queerness, self-expression, acceptance and comfort in being different.

Throughout these years of growth, Robert Alfons’ music as TR/ST was of crucial importance as a soundtrack to my struggle against an imaginary impending doom. Through his music, in particular, I discovered how powerful words and odd forms of expression can be, and I found an anchor in TR/ST’s way of approaching the world. He became an inspiration to explore not just songwriting and music production but also emotional reflection among layers of modern, goth-y sounding songs.

For five years, Robert Alfons sought refuge in isolation in order to readjust after a long intensive period on the road promoting his sophomore album Joyland. From its early stages with former bandmate Maya Postepski to the current one-man show, we’ve seen TR/ST develop in sound, daring performances, bending fashion, experimentation, trial and error, to now bloom into the glorious synth-pop powerhouse it is today.

At its core, two-part new album The Destroyer dwells on the burden of shame and its consequences, mirroring Alfons’ own development. Alfons changed pace during the creative process to allow the album to grow organically in tandem with his. As the first part sets an atmosphere with the characteristic pounding synths, draggy vocals and adverse lyrics, The Destroyer – 2 dives into eerie nostalgia with a slower pace and a different use of instruments, showing another side of TR/ST that Robert Alfons faced and now ready expose.

I remarked on his strength in this process to him, and asked if he considered himself a role model for stripping down his sound and becoming vulnerable: “I think I don’t have that confidence and wit. At some point, it checks in and that may come into play but it’s not led by that. It’s a way of processing for myself.”

He continued to discuss how influences figure into his creative process, saying “I do value being a fan and I’ve spent so much time being a fan of other people’s work than being the creator. I now value all those influences. Music, books and other different forms of art have been so important to me. I value honesty.”

TR/ST’s music has been made for underdogs who seek a connection and can only hold on to hope through emotion. Yet, with this shift from more dance-oriented elements onto a reflective daze, TR/ST refines the message and the way to present it requires thought. “I feel it’s one of those things that are tricky to solve but it’s also exciting. It makes a lot more sense that there will be not as many dancy moments but more atmospherics. If they are done properly they will be effective. Right now it’s about finding that arc that it will enrich the show and experience.”

Appealing to emotions that remain truthful and picking up challenges that push his technical skills were the aims for The Destroyer, as TR/ST deliberately stripped down production to reach the core honesty of his message. Through the course of the three albums, we are able to hear growing confidence, now with Alfons’ voice taking center stage. Through practice, performance and willingness to transgress, this has contributed to the growth of the project and allowed risk-taking. He says: “I typically write, and I have in the past, into the walls of sound. One idea can be up to seven sounds to make it up. I thought that I need to challenge myself. How can I get across this idea with four or five sounds instead of layering them?”

Through the new eight tracks coming out on November 1st, singles ‘Destroyer’ and ‘The Stain’ portray Alfons in an exposed dim light; two songs that could be said unconventional to TR/ST’s much-praised industrial-influenced dark pop. I was curious to know how a project that focuses greatly on dark, danceable beats could translate the message in a softer experience -- in particular, through a live experience, a strong element in TR/ST’s identity. For Alfons, “the live show is a wonderful way to experience music again for me. There’s a connection, a relationship being developed and energy going on with people coming to the show and performing, which I value and it is quite emotional.” Yet, when referring to the creative process, he says “I don’t think this record was written with any idea how it would translate to live.”

The Destroyer also benefited from a comeback. During its creative process, Alfons reunited with former bandmate Maya Postepski (Princess Century, former Austra). From that reencounter, seven tracks were co-written and relationships were mended, also mentioning a productive outcome from the sessions and a positive outlook into the future of the collaboration.

“She’s such an incredible talent and we have lots of fun making music and hanging out together. It was pretty magical. I can definitely see where we individually advanced and changed in our lives,” said Alfons “We worked through what we needed to work through, and even on a technical level, we realized how advanced we’ve become. It was quite beneficial.”

From 16 tracks, split into two parts, they together create coherence, showing a more conscious, human side of a musician that has become aware of his surroundings, bearing his grip. The Destroyer – 2 doesn’t lack the punchiness at all, and for that, ‘Iris’, first single and song to be produced for this record, gathers the best of both TR/ST’s word: emotion and reaction among blistering synths of epic proportions.

From the murkier, jaded songs like ‘cor’, ‘Darling’ or ‘Shame, ‘Slow Burn’ reveals itself as the key track, concluding an album that can be considered, when measured and appreciated in greater detail, one of Alfons’ greatest accomplishments. The closing tracks across every TR/ST album have always incited in me some curiosity, them either being of great effusive proportions or projecting a feeling of falling into madness or extreme hollowness. Co-written and produced with Postepski, ‘Slow Burn’, along with Joyland’s ‘Barely’ or the glorified ‘Sulk’ from the 2012 debut album, are thought through. “It’s so weird once you listen to all of the songs and it’s a missed opportunity when you don’t finish the story. It should end epicly and they always seize the moment for the last song.”

As this story comes to an end, it’s clear that those who persevere with a vision have a tendency to rise above. As for Robert Alfons, The Destroyer, assembled with courage, honesty and pace, has a strong and clear sense of the identity of a musician that has struggled and is now whole again. By not settling or being complacent, he fully embraced his flaws and imperfections to now being ready for a clean slate. On his side, he has created his most powerful and structured record yet, a testimonial of truth that every artist should be proud to have, in any way one may choose to express it.

The Destroyer – 2 is out on November 1st via Grouch/House Arrest.