[Album Review] Godspeed You! Black Emperor - Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress
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Release Date: March 31st, 2015
Label: Constellation Records

Godspeed You! Black Emperor are a behemoth in the world of Canadian alternative post-rock music. They are so revered that you dare not speak their name. It is with some trepidation then that I approach this review. If I am overly critical then the diehard fans will be up in arms yelling “Sacrilege!” Besides, it is all too easy to claim that their best work is behind them and so this naturally pales in comparison. On the other hand, if I judge it too highly then I’ll be accused of fawning and not exercising true critical analysis. Fortunately for me, my honest assessment falls somewhere between these two extremes. Whew.

When I first listened to the album I had the listing order wrong, so I was listening to “Lambs’ Breath” and “Asunder, Sweet” first. This was indeed a mistake because the album really comprises one piece of music, so the ordering of the tracks is essential. There are, in fact, three movements: the opening dramatic and emotional growl (“Peasantry Or ‘Lght! Inside Of Light!’”), the middle slowly evolving drone (“Lambs’ Breath”/”Asunder, Sweet”) and the final cinematic tidal crashes (“Piss Crowns Are Trebled”).

After a brief roll of percussions the opener gives us a heavy blast of chords – vaguely metal, with a hint of Eastern influence. The mood is one of uncertainty – a world-weary, guarded optimism. After a few passages of electric guitar distortion, the movement fades off with warmer guitars reverberating a more positive vibe.

The middle movement acts as a bridge connecting the two more momentous portions of the record. “Lambs’ Breath” starts off as a metal drone which gives way to a flowing synth ambience. “Asunder, Sweet” picks up this thread, but as the track progresses there is an ominous edge that steadily grows more insistent.

The rousing closing movement has the entire electric/electronic orchestra bearing down on you like a tsunami. Particularly effective is the violin, alerting us to the dangers around but at the same time offering tenderness. With swooping  crescendos GYBE leaves us on a note of tainted positivity. It’s not exactly a joyous celebration, but it’s about as good as it gets given our awareness of the world’s ugliness and viciousness.

Artistically and musically, the group are not breaking any new ground for themselves on ‘Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress’, but it is impressive nonetheless. For GYBE it is a solid outing – for anyone else it would be a work of absolute genius.