By Brandon Agalaba
“Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress” is the fifth album by the Canadian post-rock band Godspeed You! Black Emperor. After reforming in 2010, the band has been busy in the studio, releasing several LPs since.
Godspeed You! Black Emperor formed in 1994 and are known for their instrumental compositions which include massive crescendos and philosophical spoken word interludes that create a powerful atmosphere. These aspects have led Godspeed You! Black Emperor to fame and praise within the post-rock — and “Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress” continues this reputation.
The band’s musicianship is consistently strong. Much of the album consists of lengthy songs that attempt to take the listener on immersive sonic adventures, and the instrumentation supports this goal quite well. Instrumentals vary from noisy and intense to calm and relaxed, and the band pulls this off in a way that feels very natural.
Many of the instruments are able to set the scene. For exam- ple, much of “Lamb’s Breath” consists of nothing more than a keyboard, but the way that it is played produces an undeniable mood. Other instruments, such as the drums and bass, back up the songs well and manage to contribute to what the album is trying to convey.
All the songs on “Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress” flow very well together. As in Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s previous releases, the songs segue into each other and are meant to be listened to as a whole. The album accomplishes this feat by stringing the songs together in a way that unfolds a kind of aural story. This is demonstrated with how the droning keyboards of “Lamb’s Breath” leads to the indecipherable vocals and strange sound effects of “Asunder, Sweet” and guitars are slowly introduced to signify the new territory that the album explores.
The songs do a good job of creating a bigger overall picture, and they make the album into a cohesive whole that feels like a complete story. “Piss Clowns Are Trebled” is one of the best songs on the album, with its use of jagged, feedback-drenched, unrelenting guitars which lead into a climax of tremendous intensity.
“Lamb’s Breath” is another highlight, as its minimalistic, droning treatment of keyboards shows how Godspeed You! Black Emperor still has a knack for expressing vivid emotions without the need for vocals. The guitar work on the album is reminiscent of noise rock at times, too, as the guitars are often layered with distortion and angular, dissonant sounds.
“Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress” is an enjoyable lis- ten, but is lacking when compared to Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s previous efforts. It’s missing the overpowering darkness of “F#A# Infinity,” and does not have the cinematic and masterfully composed tales of “Lift Yr. Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven!” The album may come as a bit of a letdown after their previous album, “Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!” reassured listeners that Godspeed You! Black Emperor had not lost any of their talent during their hiatus.
While the album mostly succeeds in what it does, it is unable to impress listeners in a way the band once did. The album is just satisfactory without making noticeable strides in textures, mood or power. “Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress” is good, but not essential.