Godspeed You! Black Emperor are perhaps one of the most recognizable bands in their genre, and for good reason. Since the 1997 release of their first album, F# A# Infinity, they’ve solidified themselves as one of the most unique and evocative post rock bands in the world. And even after a lengthy eight year break up, they came roaring back with 2012’s excellent Allelujah! Don’t Bend, Ascend!, packing in all the dense sonic fury and exciting dynamics that made their name. The only caveat to that album was that it consisted entirely of material from before their breakup, so it was up in the air whether or not Godspeed still had the power to move us with their music in the present day.
Asunder, Sweet, and Other Distress is Godspeed’s first album of all-new material since their reunion, featuring 4 tracks that comprise the “Behemoth” track they’ve been playing and honing on tour the past couple of years. And all that touring has left Godspeed with the shortest, most pared down release of their career (excluding the Zero Kanada EP) – Asunder clocks in at about 40 minutes and 4 tracks. Right out of the gate, opener “Peasantry or ‘Light! Inside of Light!” crashes in with a wall of unison guitar riffing courtesy of guitarists Mike Moya and Manuel Menuck, and a bleating violin motif that begins building the tension early. There’s a hint of doom metal to the guitars here, sludging along with all the drama and portent that the genre can bring at its best. Eventually, those guitars give way into a wall of noise and feedback, giving breathing room to the trilling violins that carry the track off much, much more gently than it came in. “Peasantry” is a sort of reversal of the usual Godspeed trope: instead of gradually building up into a cathartic climax, it instead works its way in the other direction, slowly falling apart into gentle violin work and slide guitars. And from there, it lets go further, inconspicuously sliding into the drone-based middle section of the album.
“Lambs’ Breath” is a drone track that’s based around squalling guitar feedback, at times resembling something like a whale’s song, or even a giant, groaning metal machine. It’s much darker than it’s successor, “Asunder, Sweet”, which acts as a sort of long intro to the album’s second main piece. Unlike Allelujah, which spread out its two drone tracks evenly after each main piece, Asunder makes the bold choice of putting them back to back. At first, these tracks feel like they go on for a bit longer than they should, killing the momentum and mood that “Peasantry” had established. But right as they start to wear out their welcome, “Asunder, Sweet” unassumingly ends and segues into the final track.
There’s a reason for the long layover between the first and second main pieces on Asunder. “Piss Crowns Are Trebled” is a track that is intense even by Godspeed’s standards, rarely dipping into any sort of lull once it takes off (the only break being the fire alarm-esque squalls around the 7 minute mark). The first few minutes of the track revert to the familiar Godspeed formula, building up from the drone that came before it into lumbering distorted bass and harmonized violins, eventually exploding into an evocative climax replete with dramatic guitar chords and orchestration. It’s the prettiest, most uplifting Godspeed has sounded since their reunion, yet retains all of the urgency that makes their music so dramatic (an effect that is heightened by the drone tracks that precede it).
So, in the end, is Godspeed You! Black Emperor capable of writing moving, emotional music that’s up to par with their pre-break up discography? The answer is ‘absolutely’. Asunder, Sweet, and Other Distress proves it by delivering all of Godspeed’s classic elements with vigor and purpose, without verging on self-parody or feeling flat and uninspired like so many other reunited bands trying to recapture the old magic. Asunder moves exactly like the one piece movement it originally was live, transitioning seamlessly from one track to the next, while using each portion of itself to heighten the drama and emotion of the others. It’s another masterful work from a band that’s made a career out of being masters, further cementing their legacy as one of the best instrumental bands of all time.
Key Tracks: Peasantry or ‘Light! Inside of Light!’, Piss Crowns Are Trebled