Canadian post-rock band, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, tries to avoid change whenever it can. Ever since its first EP, F# A# Infinity, Godspeed has followed the same formula with its work: build up to a loud climax or a soft stop, and then start over.
Godspeed seems to have abandoned that golden formula with its new release, Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress, but the album is not made better for it. Spanning about 40 minutes with only four tracks, Asunder seems to have taken a slower route than the band’s previous releases.
It would be an understatement to say that there is a lot of buildup in the album. The entire first half seems to be almost exclusively there for the purpose of setting up the last half, and, unfortunately, it’s not a particularly interesting setup. This excruciatingly long progression is exemplified by the ending of the second track, “Lamb’s Breath,” whose last two minutes consist entirely of a single low tone, which the next song picks up on before finally transitioning to more exciting sounds. Godspeed can, without a doubt, say they have perfected the buildup, as seen in their recent acclaimed album Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend! and the classic Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven, where the onslaught of electric guitar, thumping, and repetitive drumbeats, underscored with pulsing basslines serves to paint a mysterious and dangerous soundscape.
Each string plucked, each snare smashed, each bass line echoed drives toward an overall feeling of tension and drama. The climax, the tip of the buildup, is imminent; Godspeed asks, “Are you ready?” But with Asunder, Godspeed seems to have forgotten its grandiose playstyle established in its past albums or has at least consciously ignored it. Asunder’s first half is bereft of almost any life, a neither haphazard nor precise collection of guitars and drums leading nowhere. Godspeed does eventually get to the sort of buildup that one comes to expect from them, especially in the excellent final track, “Piss Crowns Are Trebled,” when the progression finally crumbles into an explosion of melodic and aggressive tunes. The raw and powerful melodies of this track oscillate between escalations and barrages of symphonic noise, creating an exhilarating roller coaster ride.
Unfortunately, one great track and one good track cannot save the album as a whole from its intensely mediocre beginning. Asunder suffers from an overall lack of direction and atmosphere. It is also missing vocal samples, both spoken and sung, which, while not essential, have been used to great effect in past efforts from Godspeed. While Asunder picks up toward the end, the painfully slow beginning makes the whole experience almost not worth it. If you want to listen to recent Godspeed, go with Allelujah! instead.