Friday, April 3, 2015

In Revue- 'Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress' (Godspeed You! Black Emperor)

You're face-to-face with gods within the first 20 seconds of Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress, anarchistic post-rockers Godspeed You! Black Emperor's fifth LP and their first collection of new material since their 2010 reformation. These are magisterial figures descending from a cloudy mountaintop to impart riff-heavy wisdom. Imagine Zoroastrian deity Ahura Mazda drowning in a tar pit or Egyptian serpent Apep constricting Black Sabbath's Tony Iommi and you're close to the divinely sludgy sound GY!BE lets loose for the first several minutes of opener "Peasantry or 'Light! Inside of Light!'" It isn't just the guitars; Aidan Girt's drums heavily stumble like Rick Ross off of 50 lagers. The bass rumbles could drown out the noise of a misfiring train engine. Few bands understand the grandeur of noise this well.

The way they dedicate a good deal of time to quietly trembling drones, instead of knee-shaking guitar solos, is arguably the most impressive (at times frustrating) thing about Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress. It's still impressively orchestrated noise, but the kind that requires you to focus on nuanced ebbs and flows. "Peasantry…" hits you with two balled-up fists; fuzzy, scraping twins "Lambs Breath" and "Asunder Sweet" finger walk down the back of your neck. You can hear organs and keyboards coughing up blood because there isn't anything fighting for sonic space. There’s a particular pin-drop moment, near the coda of "Lambs Breath," when you witness post-Apocalyptic Earth once all of the detritus has been swept away. I was walking through a crowded university parking garage the first time I heard it, but I felt completely alone. The rows of cars represented those who didn't make it out. Even an eerie radiator hum is cause for celebration in this desolate world. Noise comes at premium.

Which can test your patience if you're expecting the skyward Godspeed You! Black Emperor of Slow Riot for New Zero Kanada. Nearly half of the album's 41 minute run time is given over to the aforementioned void of noise. There is the occasional Middle-Eastern violin in "Asunder, Sweet" and brain scrambling horn sound, but nothing seems to last for long. I anxiously tapped my right foot during the mid-section because it was so unsettling. We live in disconcerting times though and a "political" outfit like GY!BE understands that. Terrorist groups dominant international headlines. Co-pilots are crashing planes in the French Alps after endlessly researching suicide methods on the dank recesses of the Internet. The bad news can pile up so much that a Kenyan school massacre resulting in 147 dead is pushed aside. How the hell can you have hope when those are the headlines? If it's true that music is a reflection of that society that makes it, then we really are "trapped in the belly of this horrible machine" as “the machine is bleeding to death."

The funny thing about humanity though is that it is blessed/cursed with immutable hope. Godspeed You! Black Emperor isn’t any different. For all of the agony they and their audience endure on Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress, GY!BE end with the defiant Sturm und Drang of "Piss Crowns Are Trebled." The closer lets the damns loose and hits some of the highest highs that I've ever heard from the collective. That initial earthquake of a riff comes back, but now it's empowering rather than fear mongering. Sophie Trudeau's violin here should score a person's entire life being rewound, it's that affirming. The drums stop stumbling and lock into focus. After 27 minutes of horror, we're given a reprieve. The kind that can lift you up out of the bowels of hell if you need it to. That will make the world seem brighter. Gods, saviors or superheroes don't come down from on-high when you want them to, they show up when you need them to.

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