Review Summary: A thematic and musical awakening for one of the greatest post-rock bands in history.
Nearly two decades ago, F# A# ∞ brought forth instruments of destruction. Mankind was reduced to rubble, as mothers clutched babies and pulled out their hair. The skyline was on fire, washing the heavens over in an orange haze. Some pleaded for repentance. Others despaired, laying themselves down in the street and accepting their collective fate. It was truly the last of days, and as “Providence” closed the curtain on one of post-rock’s founding opuses, our eyes collectively succumbed to the darkness...overcome by such a catastrophic armageddon, and drawn to the promise of death. Countless years later, Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress
scores the awakening. It’s a panoramic view of the world; just not as we
know it. Grass has pushed up through the concrete, with vines growing up the side of every building. Sheep graze quietly in a pasture, oblivious to the devastation brought upon mankind by their own doing. It’s post post-apocalyptic, and it’s beautiful in a way that none of us will likely ever witness, save through the brilliant and haunting compositions of Godspeed You! Black Emperor.
One can almost be excused for giving Asunder
a casual shrug in the year 2015. After all, what can this band do for us that we haven’t already experienced? The foreboding spoken passages, the slow-burn buildups, the resplendent climaxes – for diehard followers, we’ve all been there and heard that. Besides, when they reunited and subsequently released Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!
, Godspeed demonstrated their relevancy and reclaimed their spot atop the post-rock throne. What else is there to prove? These questions aren’t without validity, but Asunder
does everything in its power to show us that this band’s reservoir of ideas is far from depleted. There are extensive drone inclusions that comprise the middle half of the album, and the fat has been trimmed from the live working title Behemoth
to leave us with only the best cuts. The result is an album that still endeavors to rise and fall, but achieves its goal more quickly and through altered means. It’s an invigorating makeover of Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s firmly entrenched sound, and thus Asunder
is both a thematic and
musical awakening for the band.
From the very beginning, “Peasantry, or ‘Light Inside of Light!” offers a stimulating depiction of Earth after the reign of human beings has come to its violent demise. A desolate drum beat echoes, filling the air with the loneliest of man-made sounds. That echo is joined by ominous electric guitars, which wail like a beast emerging from its earthy grave long after everyone thought that it was dead. It’s a very different approach by Godspeed’s standards, because the song is already peaking well before it hits the two minute mark, and it manages to hold its steam throughout by gradually introducing new components. By the time the strings enter you can almost feel yourself being picked up, the weightlessness allowing you to survey everything below. The sun is shimmering on the ocean like a thousand diamonds, and there are signs of life as seagulls glide about from rocks to sea. When the walls of distorted guitar take over, you’re overlooking the wreckage of civilization and witnessing the barren wasteland created by every major city. Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress
gets the imagination rolling immediately.
If “Peasantry” serves as an overture, representing the triumphant and frightening moment that is seeing the new face of the Earth, then the middle two tracks illustrate vacancy and abandonment. “Lambs’ Breath” and “Asunder, Sweet” are both exhales in a way, and considering the way that “Peasantry” overpowers your senses from the get-go, it’s a welcome relief. Both are drone pieces, and there is a ton of feedback and distortion to get lost in if you listen for the little nuances that make them so interesting and, and times, bone-chilling. “Asunder, Sweet” is particularly impressive, with echoing sonar samples that give one the impression of being plunged into the ocean – sinking helplessly into the pitch black while watching the last ray of sunlight get choked out by darkness. Of course, this also plays into the idea of a new world, devoid of human activity except for the remaining machines that continue to hum on cue, hauntingly and unflinchingly. A passing listen might not reveal the depth of these two songs, but repeated exposure to them will cause you realize just how critical they are to Asunder
. They’re not just a reprieve; they’re the heart of it all.
Like all Godspeed You! Black Emperor albums, Asunder
has a track that serves as the
ultimate climax of the entire experience – the mountain’s summit, if you will. Here, that song is without a doubt “Piss Crowns Are Trebled.” Militaristic drumming gives way to driving electric guitar riffs, shredding, string sections, and massive crescendos that are poignant enough to move even the most well versed post-rock aficionado. About halfway through, it transitions to an even faster tempo – and at that point all expectations are shattered by sheer determination, vision, and brilliance. The guitars are amped up a notch, the drum fills become more urgent, the orchestration sounds more heartbroken and forlorn, and it all starts to sound like the cathartic unveiling of a lifetime. In terms of emotional impact, it may even exceed “We Drift Like Worried Fire.” It’s genuinely inspiring, and the fact that Godspeed can still come up with gems like this should restore anyone’s faith in modern music. So much for these guys running out of ideas.
Asunder, Sweet, and Other Distress
may be this band’s fifth full length album over the course of eighteen years, but there’s something different about it. 2002’s Yanqui U.X.O.
and 2012’s Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!
were both great records in their own right, but they didn’t necessarily do anything we weren’t expecting. When you factor in the lengthy hiatus that came between those two albums, there’s even more room for the possibility of stagnation. Asunder
fights that notion with every fiber of its being. It’s more concise. It’s bolder, sleeker, and faster. The drone tracks will haunt your dreams if you’ll let them. If 1997 created an unattainable benchmark in F# A# ∞
’s musical apocalypse, then Asunder
represents a brand new chapter. It’s post-apocalyptic, and it’s a gorgeous awakening for a band that continues to define the standard within its genre.