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


Godspeed You! Black Emperor - Asunder, Sweet and Other DistressNow Lift Your Skinny Fists like Antennas to Heaven defined Godspeed You! Black Emperor for me, even more than their début F#A#∞ (1995-1997). Although that album’s “Dead Flag Blues” certainly glows favourably in my head, the rest seemed instantly overshadowed by Skinny Fists‘ scope, its harmonic exhilarations — those soaring crescendos that seemed far richer, more determined, taking the fucked-up economy and hammering home hope with holy unison. An impression further sealed after I caught their three-hour Scala show that year, a live experience which to this day has yet to be surpassed.

With the following Yanqui U.X.O, you got used to them confidently filling four slabs’ worth, and then they just sort of dissipated, sidestepped into A Silver Mt. Zion’s more song-based protests, and with the shrug of the shoulders it seemed all over. Then some ten years later — bang: Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend! hit, as if they never left; and now after an even shorter gestation they’re back with more and it’s a solid start.

HUGE in fact, enormous riffs stamped over in regularised patterings of percussion akin to Pelican or Earth circa Hex, later ripped through with some sweet barbarism, extra undercuts that open the album to an unusually optimistic vibe. It does sound a bit too clean and commercial for my liking, having always equated Godspeed with a rougher approach (something matched by the music’s immaculate packaging). But just as you suspect the harbingers of the encroaching apocalypse have forgotten their mission, military snares roll in and the vibe changes to that of grim determination, disintegrating into some beautiful twilighty corridors of yesteryear.

Then the corrosion hits! Raw and overloaded claws that grope towards an altogether more experimental vibe, “Lambs’ Breath” is definitely more like it — a broken turbine filled with Vietnam spectres, Chinook blades cutting into a grainy apex. The eerie desolations and wasping electricity bring to mind labelmates RE: or Exhaust in menacing textures that contextually float out in a buzzing drone, an oscillatory worm that the next track “Asunder, Sweet” picks up in the percussive spring of hammered chords. A lean offering overtaken in spiralling contours, see-sawing textures that pyre build, climb constantly hungry for release, the gnaw of violin heralding a darkening shadow over the landscape, a crow Zeppelin replete with tremolo gasps. These are tasty reminders of the passion Godspeed are capable of wielding, easing you into the album’s 13 minute 50 second epitaph entitled “Piss Crowns Are Trebled”. A sinewed beast the Swans would have been proud of, flanked in military percussives and switch-bladed sycamores.

They’ve certainly left the best for last and after five minutes they let some orchestrated colour in, a sprinkling of viola lightfalls strung out into a repeat riff, naturally overcome in tidal secondaries and insistent pummels. An energy that grabs you to its twisting concentrics — circles, ever-growing circles, crook-hooking ever louder; even on pitiful mp3 this still rips things up into satisfyingly tremors, a miasma of sound that eats away the room, roasts your head with its riches right up to the inevitable glide into its own smoking crater.

In three words: Worth every penny.

-Michael Rodham-Heaps-

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