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It’s only been five years since Canadian post-rock giants Godspeed You! Black Emperor reformed and reactivated after a near-decade hiatus, and only two years since the release of their album Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!. What was once a group shrouded in mystery and inconsistency is now a band that appears to be increasingly driven as they get further into their career. The hype train has been at full speed in anticipation of Godspeed’s latest album Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress and it’s easy to see why upon first listen. Gone are the days of eerie vocal lines found in earlier works like F#A# Infinity, and in are the days of a newer, more focused GY!BE sound. The streamlining of such a grandiose sound aids in creating a totally cohesive album that grasps the listener from the first note.
Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress begins with a simple drumbeat that explodes into a multi-layered instrumental barrage. Upon hearing the first tinges of sound, it’s clear that this album falls more in line stylistically with its aforementioned predecessor, Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend! than it does with Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s earlier works. There’s no starting on a quiet low on either release, and the listener is immediately plunged into a dense wall of sound as soon as the track starts. The ten-and-a-half-minute opener is one of the busiest pieces of the album, with a montage of guitars, horns, drums, orchestral arrangements, and other instruments. It’s an exciting way to start the album, and the song is an excellent hook into the remaining three tracks.
The opener isn’t the only thing that’s a surefire indicator that the band has found a secure space within their newer sound. Lengthwise, Asunder also mirrors its predecessor’s shorter-than-typical-Godspeed-releases runtime, clocking in at roughly forty minutes spread across four tracks. This isn’t a bad thing by any means, and the result is an album that’s way more digestible in its entirety than previous releases were. Considering the progressive aspect of Godspeed’s sound, this greatly aids in helping the listener grasp the entire idea rather than the pieces of it at different times.
Upon completion of the first track, Asunder moves into a thick drone that dominates the midsection of the album. It’s not a drone that could be easily mimicked by the sound of a refrigerator in a silent room, but a much darker sound that’s almost as captivating as it is simplistic. The sounds that dominate the middle of the album are reminiscent of the drone occur in a hospital waiting room as the news of a dead family member is broken, or the sounds of a life slipping away as one last feeble attempt is made to break out of a car that’s trapped in a thick, cold pond in the middle of the night. It’s overwhelmingly eerie and fails to bore the listener despite failing to be very dynamic.
Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress is definitive proof that Godspeed You! Black Emperor is still an incredibly relevant band at the top of the post-rock ladder. While it may not be an instant classic or have the impact that F#A# Infinity or Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven did, it’s still a phenomenal album with the accessibility and lasting appeals to be an excellent addition to the Godspeed discography. This isn’t the sound of a band trying to relive their glory days, it’s the sound of a newly inspired group continuing to claim relevance decades after their inception.