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Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress

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Album Review

The four pieces that make up the suite-like Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress, have evolved from an earlier live incarnation of the work, known to fans as "Behemoth," which was excessive even by Godspeed You! Black Emperor's sprawling standards. For the studio, they've carved it and sharpened it for maximum impact. At just over 40 minutes, this is the band's first single album release since their 1998 debut F# A# (Infinity). It is also their first ever without the use of sampled or field-recorded voices. Opener "Peasantry or Light! Inside of Light!" thunders in on doom riffs, while squalling, sawing, multi-tracked violins and an army of slow, plodding guitars compete for dominance, with thudding drums — à la Black Sabbath — and a taut, layered bassline all playing variations on 12-bar blues but in waltz time. Short cadenzas are woven into the turnarounds, throwing things off and adding a regal element that passes for a schematic; it's almost florid maximalism, but the tension is palpable. After a stinging guitar break, Sophie Trudeau's violins introduce the next phase as Eastern and Western melodies join and soar to the top of the mix and the rest of the band's instruments, puncturing every space in order to catch her. That enormous crescendo we've become accustomed to never quite happens. The pace slows, the spaces get wider, and the opening riff eventually returns, this time with the pomp of those recombined harmonic lines woven in. "Lamb's Breath" and "Asunder Sweet" variously employ blown-out distorted basslines, piercing feedback, single guitar stabs, and sonic washes, culminating in tonal and microtonal drones forming the middle of the record. It's an extended meditation in sound, full of bleak and brooding dread and mournful spaces. Ambient textures from blasted organs and synths and guitar harmonics coalesce toward a squall of maqam violin themes grafted onto post-minimalist repetition. Combined, they create a ground floor for GY!BE to begin to erect their trademark urgent, dramatic tension that gradually announces the concluding "Piss Crowns Are Trebled." Single-string ringing guitar, prodded by open-tuned drones from keyboards and other six strings, whomping bass, and cataclysmic drumming are woven into and through one another as an uncharacteristically intricate violin melody climbs toward the transcendent border of no return. Everything swirls in cacophonous, ever repeating, four-beat drones; only Trudeau's violins offer variation in a frenzied, harmonic counterpoint. There is nowhere left for the music to go; even scaling back the swell of instruments doesn't succeed in relieving the tension or stop the frenetic energy; the music has entered oblivion; shelter from the storm is only unnecessary because it is impossible. The conclusion of Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress is, as musically foretold on F# A# (Infinity) in 1998, the undoing of a world. The process of evolution is destruction. In GY!BE's musical universe, everything has already passed over the margin and returned to the void from whence it came. What can be left but silence? [A vinyl version was also released.]


Formed: 1994 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada

Genre: Alternative

Years Active: '90s, '00s, '10s

The instrumental multimedia Montreal group Godspeed You! Black Emperor create extended, repetition-oriented chamber rock. The minimal and patient builds-to-crescendo of the group's compositions results in a meditative and hypnotic listen that becomes almost narrative when combined with found-sound splices and the films of their visual collaborators. GY!BE formed in 1994, and that year self-released a limited-run (33 copies) cassette entitled All Lights Fucked on the Hairy Amp Drooling. The band's...
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Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress, Godspeed You! Black Emperor
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