Album Review: Godspeed You! Black Emperor – “Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress”

Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress, the newest album from seminal Canadian post-rock outfit Godspeed You! Black Emperor, is the first material to be released since their hotly anticipated 2012 album Alleluah! Don’t Bend! Ascend! which arrived after a nearly 8 year hiatus. Godspeed has been touring sparingly since the release of that album honing the material for Asunder. As with any release from Godspeed, there is a ton hype due to the infrequency and overall quality of their work.

For those unfamiliar with Godspeed You! Black Emperor they boast a nine person ensemble of your standard rock instruments paired with traditional string and percussion instruments as well as field recordings. Their music generally focuses around slow droning builds that gradually grow into large, bombastic climaxes. Each piece generally ranges from 15-20 minutes and has multiple movements.

Right off the bat fans will notice that Asunder is by far the bands shortest album clocking in at just over 40 minutes. Asunder is also their most immediate and arguably their most accessible album. The opening track Peasantry or ‘Light! Inside of Light!'( in contrast to nearly every track I’ve ever heard from Godspeed) jumps right out of the gate with a roar of strings and guitars. The track builds to a familiarly triumphant and emotionally charged climax until finally settling into a wailing guitar melody accompanied by the marching beat of the drums. The movements on this opener, while not as anticipatory or emotionally affecting, are among some of Godspeed’s best work since 2000’s Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven, their undisputed magnum opus and possibly my favorite album of all time.

As with every Godspeed album, Asunder is recorded as one continuous piece. The two middle tracks, Lambs’ Breath and Asunder, Sweet, are mainly comprised of ambient noise from the combination of strings and guitar feedback that provide a sort of rest before building to the albums final track, Piss Crowns Are Trebled. This piece provides a fittingly grand and somber finale for any Godspeed record.

Overall, I think Asunder Sweet and Other Distress suffers from not having a clear message and cohesiveness. Unlike other Godspeed albums I don’t get a sense of a clear concept here, and maybe there isn’t meant to be. But I’ve always felt that the concepts and field recordings used in their earlier work provided a backbone and a context to their music unlike anything I’ve ever heard. With Asunder Godspeed You! Black Emperor has given us a less ambitious piece than what fans have come to expect over the years. While it may absolutely excel in parts, ultimately it isn’t nearly as memorable as some of their earlier pieces. Still definitely worth a listen though if you’re a fan of experimental music.

3.5/5

You can listen to Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress in it’s entirety here:

 

By Owen Fassett

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