Godspeed You! Black Emperor – Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress

They don’t make it easy, do they?

Canadian ensemble Godspeed You! Black Emperor have been making their stubbornly obstinate, wilfully singleminded music for over 20 years now. Never once have they wavered; their fire and brimstone, apocalyptic vision of the world rarely leaves room for even the merest sliver of light. Fifth album Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress doggedly follows the same blueprint – and herein lies its strength and its weakness.

For the second album in a row,  GY!BE mix the sublime with the infuriating. Like 2012 release ‘Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend’, there are just four tracks stretched across a relatively brief (by their standards) 41 minutes.

The similarities don’t end there – two of the tracks are as good as anything they have released and when GY!BE are good, they are simply untouchable. But just like on their last album, the other two songs included are entirely forgettable slabs of unstructured noise, lazy inclusions that serve only to test our patience.

It all starts so well – opening track ‘Peasantry or Light! Inside of Light!’ screams into action, bold and dramatic, the soundtrack to the apocalypse. Everything that makes GY!BE so special can be heard here – those end of the world blues guitars, the heart pounding climaxes, the off the cuff chemistry that makes these extended jams sound both loose and meticulously prepared at the same time.

They follow this with ‘Lamb’s Breath’; ten minutes of the kind of noise you get when a band down tools at the end of a show and leave everything humming. A fitting way to end a gig perhaps, but a whole lot less interesting on record.  ‘Asunder, Sweet’ is another turgid piece of music; more feedback, more drones, increasing in intensity as the track dissolves into the fourteen minute finale that is ‘Piss Crowns Are Trebled’.

Of course, this is magnificent, pulling us right back into their world of elliptical guitar riffs, slow burning build ups and stunning crescendos.

Godspeed You! Black Emperor are never going to vie for the ‘cuddliest band in Rock’ award. They continue to do things their own way, stubbornly refusing to compromise, to concede even an inch. There has been no real progression in their sound since their formation in 1994; it is what it is, not just Post Rock but Post Everything.  They seem less interested than ever in making a truly great album, preferring to confound and challenge us, teasing us with moments of brilliance while testing the limits of our endurance.

Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress could have been a truly great album but the band’s wilfully perverse streak ensures that we must settle once again for flashes of brilliance, fleeting moments of epic grandeur.


3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)