Godspeed You! Black Emperor – ‘Asunder, Sweet And Other Distress’

Heavy drones and a rare hint of optimism from the gloomy Canadian post-rockers

Twenty-one years have passed since their formation, but Montreal’s apocalypse orchestra remain stubbornly outside the mainstream. Yes, there have been overtures from the establishment – 2012 comeback album ‘Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!’ saw Godspeed You! Black Emperor awarded Canada’s prestigious Polaris Music Prize – but the group chose to give the $30,000 prize money to fund music education in the prisons of their native Quebec, and skipped the awards ceremony, instead issuing a characteristically poetic communiqué ripping on the prize and its corporate sponsors.

All the same, it’s possible to read a shift in the octet’s artistic headspace. Where once, their marches and crescendos were suffused with inky-black tragedy, increasingly it’s possible to see the chinks of optimism in their sound shine brighter, and brighter. Opener ‘Peasantry Or ‘Light! Inside Of Light!’’ starts as a doom-drone clang with shades of Washington droners Earth, but by its triumphant mid-section it’s opened up to include churning organs, flourishes of Klezmer fiddle, and orchestral arrangements that evoke the bucolic beauty of an English country garden than the white-knuckle anxiety of a fascist state.

Clocking in at just 40 minutes, ‘Asunder, Sweet And Other Distress’ features none of the spoken-word parts or field recordings that lent earlier albums their sense of cinematic breadth or sonic collage. Indeed, those longing for lashings more primo Godspeed may come away slightly short-changed – especially as two mid-album tracks, ‘Lambs’ Breath’ and ‘Asunder, Sweet’ are largely given over to foggy ambient drones and string squalls that mass like dark rainclouds.

Still, it all feels in the service of scene-setting for the record’s final movement, ‘Piss Crowns Are Trebled’. One of the highlights of Godspeed’s catalogue to date, it comes on like a cosmic struggle between darkness and light, spry violins dancing around in a sea of blackened guitar dirge, and the whole thing gradually gaining weight before a final splenetic eruption of graceful rage. Because they write music without words, you’re forced to find meaning in the substance of Godspeed’s music. Their vision remains a bleak one – but it makes resistance sound holy, and love sound like a revolutionary act.

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