“Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress” has a rather unenviable position in Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s storied catalog. Following up their celebrated return “’Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!” has certainly set listener’s expectations high, but not even those expectations compare to the unbelievable heights hit by albums such as “Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven.” Caught between both past and present, the band finds itself battling unfavorable odds for the first time. It’s been 18 years since “F# A# ∞” took the music underground by storm and redefined the possibilities for post rock, but neither time nor the legions of fans and critics have forgotten. Being stale, however, has never been one of the Canadians’ problems. Unlike Godspeed’s previous recordings, “Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress” revels in brevity without compromising the band’s massive sonic pallet. Rather, the group’s monolithic sound has been condensed and repackaged with a new electric ferocity not heard on previous releases. Here, Godspeed conjures a dystopian reckoning at a breakneck pace, blazing new sonic territory while living up to their own legacy in the process.
Veterans of the Canadians’ particular brand of apocalypse are likely to find “Peasantry or ‘Light! Inside of Light!” surprisingly immediate. Rather than spending most of its length building to a weighty conclusion, the track begins bursting at the seams in its opening minutes. Crashing drums, snaking guitar leads and wall-crumbling bass coalesce into a feverish deathmarch. It’s beautifully bleak – the type of cacophony only veterans of their craft could conceive, let alone pull off. “Peasantry” doesn’t hit its stride, however, until the doom-laden guitar solo leads into a wash of escalating noise. Of course, this wouldn’t be Godspeed without a dynamic shift. As the layers of sound collapse, it’s easy to imagine the sweeping panoramic of windswept hills scarred by some unspeakable hell, brown and ruined with the twisted metal of cars laid waste. It’s not until tracks two and three, though, that Godspeed truly flexes its creative muscles in new fashion.
Both “Lambs’ Breath” and “Asunder, Sweet” expand upon the droning interludes found on Godspeed’s previous album by fleshing them out into engaging, organic wholes. “Lambs’ Breath” segues straight out of the album opener into an ominous muddied rumble backdropped with echoed distortions. Oscillating pulses punctuate the sporadic surges of bass, as if to remind the listener that the world is well and truly gone. By now, it’s understandable if this is beginning to sound like it’s too much to take. It’s not. The album’s middle section works to effectively lull the audience into a trance. Rather than oppress the senses, “Lambs’ Breath” and “Asunder, Sweet” seduce them. As the track hits the six minute mark, only a minimal whir remains; earth itself has stood still, and we watch, mesmerized. Seguing directly into “Asunder, Sweet” is a smart move, as the album’s third cut inverts the preceding track, rewinding with an echoed sonic beacon that heralds the impending finale.
It isn’t clear just how important Godspeed’s expanded drones truly are until “Piss Crowns Are Trebled” pays dividends on the investment. Roaring to life with a massive, noise-laden soundscape, the album’s final track harks back to the grandiose climaxes that have defined the band’s storied history. Strings rise and fall in waves. The drums march onwards with militaristic precision. The guitars, dirtied with distortion, cast looming shadows. It truly is the soundtrack to the end of all things, but it’s also pure majesty. Here, Godspeed concoct an intoxicating, paradoxical mixture of impending doom and unbreakable hope, as if somewhere in the vast barrens of remaining earth, there’s purpose. In a word, it’s beautiful. It’s uncomfortable. It’s hideous. “Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress” is all the things we’ve come to expect from Godspeed and more. So close the blinds, shut the door and lie down. You wouldn’t want to see the world outside.