Here at Arctic Drones’ post-rock mansion the last two weeks have been hectic to say the least. Upon the announcement of a new Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s record, reactions varied from orgasmic excitement to complete indifference and everything in between.
Until, finally, one day we locked ourselves up in one room and forced ourselves to get along with each other, and come up with something to collectively say about this record.
Finally, after 2 weeks of hard, hard work, 8 of yours favourite writers have offered their authoritative opinion on the record. At last, Artic Drones is proud and honoured to present you the ultimate ‘Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress’ review.
Who, 10, or even 5 years ago, would have honestly imagined that the post-rock titans would be back, with yet a fifth record? If predecessor, “Allelujah!”, came as a surprise, the news of “Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress” came as a bolt from the blue. We knew the band was back in full force, but recording a new record, call me blind, but I just didn’t see it coming. Yet here they are, over 20 years later, still producing compelling music that melts the boundaries of instrumental rock and experimentation. Again, the band chose for their dark craft a title the fits the music, like a custom-made glove from an Italian boutique would fit your hand.
“Asunder”: how you’ll feel after listening to this record. “Sweet”: like anything GY!BE related. And finally, “Distress”, as in exceeding and letting down expectations at the same time. Because yes, in a totally Godspeed fashion, David Bryant, Mike Moya, and Co. completely destroy and yet fail short of whatever expectations fans and critics alike had put on them. “Asunder, Sweet” sounds like a GY!BE record without sounding like a Godspeed record. It is heavy yet surprisingly accessible; brief, yet extremely intricate, and dark, yet heartwarmingly hopeful.
But like any other GY!BE’s album, “Asunder, Sweet” will hypnotize you with its gloriously crafted soundscape of drone interludes and beautiful crescendos. Take a deep breath and let this album transport you somewhere, where a storm just ended, and the sun timidly shines through the thick clouds. Is it a new “F# A# ∞”? Not even close. Did it really need be? No, not all.
RELEASE DATE: 31 March 2015 LABEL: Constellation Records
I’ll just come out and say it – this is my favorite GY!BE album so far. I’m a drone nut, but it takes artistry to make a really hypnotic drone crawl under your skin and glaze your eyes over, and I haven’t had that feeling quite so strongly since Boris & Sunn O)))’s “Sun Baked Snow Cave”. Too bad the production sounds quite muddled to me on the first and final tracks, taking away from the individual definition of the instruments; it all blends together a bit much for my taste. Bottom line: Will I be listening to it daily? No. Will I still be listening to it ten years from now, when the time is right and stars align? Extremely likely.
So, the new Godspeed You! Black Emperor album! I remember the shivers of excitement I got when they announced their comeback after ten years of absence with “Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!”. Then I had a chance to see them live at Off Festival in Poland in 2013 which was more of a spiritual experience than a normal gig. I kind of wouldn’t be surprised if they would split up again and focus on various side projects. Instead, they decided to keep on and release music on somewhat regular basis. When it comes to a band like Godspeed, I’d really prefer to wait for some time (maybe not ten years though!) for new stuff than to get an album from them every two years. “Asunder, Sweet And Other Distress” is a perfect representation of this statement. I’m not saying it is bad, but I really expected something more from GY!BE. I do appreciate their shift to more drone-y areas they presented on this and the previous record, but as “Allelujah” was a blast, then “Asunder” was only a half-blast, literally. The first and the last track are massive, aggressive, eerie and majestic. They present everything we love about Godspeed – slow build-ups, breathtaking climaxes and the mood of an apocalypse which is just around the corner. The two middle tracks however, sound a bit like multiple layers of noise with no exact purpose. I understand that GY!BE tries new musical directions and all, but after fifteen minutes of “Lamb’s Breath” and “Asunder, Sweet” I was quite bored. The latter defends itself as a prelude to “Piss Crowns Are Trebled”, but still, this is not what I would expect from my personal heroes of independent music. The whole record sounds as if its potential was not fully exploited, as if there could be something more to these tracks. Again, I am not saying it’s a bad album, but it could be better.
I’ll be honest, I have never enjoyed GY!BE. I always thought the band name was cool, but the music, not so much. My opinion has changed slightly though with Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress. The album is hypnotic at times and definitely has some wonderful soundscapes to offer the listener, “Piss Crowns Are Trebled” being my personal favourite. This is also some of the darkest stuff I have ever heard from GY!BE. The album isn’t without flaws though. I love ambient music but the tracks “Lambs’ Breath” and “Asunder Sweet” are an utter waste of space. They overstay their welcome when they could have easily been shortened and mixed as a single track bridging the first and last tracks. What we have here then is an album with two really good songs, filled out by two mediocre album fillers. I’ll be interested to see if GY!BE continue with this sludgier, darker sound in future releases.
Behemoth. That’s what fans came to call the piece GY!BE used to play live before putting it on a studio record in the form of ‘Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress. In my opinion, that’s also the correct mindset to go into this album, to listen to it as one, enormous, epic, long-stretched song. It truly shines in the beginning and at the end of the record, when the band sounds as majestic as they ever have, from the first hit on the hi-hat to the last yammering of the fading-out guitars. And while those first and last parts are impressing the better of us, they’re only able to do so thanks to the often criticized middle part. A good quarter of an hour of the album is taken up by seemingly uninteresting noise, but it’s that part which makes you wander off in your thoughts, which makes you lose track of time and which causes the uprising in your spirit when the whole band returns in full force on “Piss Crowns Are Trebled”. Think of it as the vista of an epic rock formation near the sea. You’re looking at one gorgeous pillar of stone, connecting the ocean to the land, when you start your seemingly never-ending walk along the beach, the ocean on one side, a wasteland of pebbles and sand on the other. After a long, tiring walk, you get caught by surprise by the view of a second pillar of stone, even larger and more magnificent than the first one, rising up before you. And not just that. As you realise you should have seen it coming way before you actually did, a giant meteor comes crashing into the side of the rock formation, blowing it to pieces. And while huge boulders of mineral and stone are raining down around you, time seems to stand still, and the equally delicate and majestic finale of ‘Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress makes you see the beauty of it all.
So, it’s here. Fans have only had to wait a comparably short two-and-a-half years for this one, and the sparsity of “Asunder” reflects this, as the album has somewhat of a bare-bones feel to it on the whole. GY!BE fans may be irritated at the inclusion of two ambient pieces on a four-track LP, and while especially the harrowing “Lamb’s Breath” is solid along drone criteria, I have to agree with this sentiment, as the opener and closer are not quite strong enough to carry the album on their own. The juxtaposition of the heavy-handed intro and the wailing string melody during the second half of “Peasantry” is a bit strong, rendering the middle portion of the track somewhat saccharine. The fuzz on the guitars also clashes with the rest of the instrumentation, something I couldn’t get over even after three or four listens. The song is still competently executed, though this is hardly praise for a band of GY!BE’s caliber.”Piss Crowns” turns out to be the album’s biggest redeeming factor, with a masterful progression that doesn’t let up. It evokes a long march into battle before depicting the revelry that ensues after victory, and is the highest point on “Asunder” by a long shot. It’s just a shame that the pickings are a bit slim this time around.
Godspeed You! Black Emperor are a legendary band to some, but to me they’re mostly a band of unintelligible music and obtuse song names. To me the legend meant nothing, yet with ‘Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress‘ some of that has changed; the dense song names stayed, but the music became something noteworthy all of a sudden. With “Peasantry” opening up, the album ironically sounds like a celebration of cosmic royalty. It glides through its movements with the slow, lethargic and self-indulgent air of a fat baroness. Then “Lambs Breath” is more like what happened after the party, it is the sounds of an empty house, not of silence, but of brooding antechambers and wooden doors. True, ‘Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress’ is a dark album, yet joyful, and it contains a bit of peace in a very strange manner. In my mind, ‘Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress’ slowly settles itself into being a sonic interpretation of the classic Vinterberg-film “Festen”. The movie is centered around a birthday party, and focuses on the night it takes place, and the subsequent morning. The plot is cut into two by a quiet night scene where the cacophony of voices dies down and different characters roam the house in relative silence. The next morning features the movie’s climax, the resolving of the plot, and even though it is not as glorious as “Piss Crowns Are Trebled” makes you suspect, it is at least as impressive.
Godspeed You! Black Emperor were my entry into post-rock. To me, they were my bridge to a new genre that I at once fell in love with. Asunder, Sweet And Other Distress seems to be polarizing for fans, and has been met with mixed and very opinionated sides. In my opinion, I think this album displays the good and bad aspects of GY!BE. On one side, they’ve experimented even further to different realms of genres. On the other, the experimentation proved ineffective and somewhat off-putting. Overall, the album is a decent listen, but not as impactful as their other releases. I have no problem waiting a long, long time if it results in another epic album that I’m used to hearing from this band.
Note on the rating: The final aggregated score on the record is based on the single ratings given by each reviewer.