Final Rating: 8.8/10
Look at the sheep. They graze under the bright light while the ominous shadows lurk above them. The image is repeated twice on the cover of Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress. The cover itself was incomplete and thus followed itself through its own actions, much like the herd of lambs of which it features. Godspeed You! Black Emperor have made album after album that have documented the emotions one would feel during the end of the world, and this album follows suit as such. It is their shortest full length and their first single record vinyl release in a very long time. The band usually has a lot to say, but Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress only had one thing in mind: We are sheep. We are the sheep that flock towards positivity if it shines in one spot. We avoid anything that distresses us. Like the image on the front, history is doomed to repeat itself because we are too busy avoiding pain. It’s ironic that we will only re-experience anguish as a result of running away from it.
Like Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!, this album features two main tracks and two drone-ambient efforts. Unlike that other album, whose interludes came after each near-twenty minute epic, both ambient pieces are shoved right in the middle. The album is actually based on a live song the band has been toying with for years supposedly called Behemoth, and the album carries on the notion that this is meant to be one long piece. We have had massive songs with many movements from this band before, but this album is actually one song disguised as a few, while we’re being introduced to movements as per usual. So we get two lengthy songs (short by Godspeed You! Black Emperor standards, actually) and two escalating transformations that combine them.
Like the cover art suggests, turmoil comes, goes, and only repeats itself because we did not leave in time. With Peasantry or ‘Light! Inside of Light!’, we get pounding war drums telling us to leave the area. Like the start of Seven Samurai (or The Magnificent Seven, take your pick), we get the initial attack before the final blow. We can leave like cowards, or wait like heroes. The track doesn’t leave, as it is jazzy with its waltz, bluesy with its glare and noisy with its growls. You can hear it clop around on horseback and then leave when the song resolves.
After the fire set to parts of the town subsides, we are left with feedback. We did it! We survived the attack. Nothing feels normal, though. Not with Lambs’ Breath filling your ears with dread. This is the influence of the meek being poured into you. You feel fear as noise resonates, but you cannot leave. You are frozen in place knowing that your future is bleak. There isn’t much happening in this song, but I could not step away from it if my life depended on it. I put up with the minute of a singular blurb of fuzz at the end because I was too scared to see what was ahead of us.
The fuzz leaks into Asunder, Sweet. It continues unharmed. That’s when the creepy plucks echo like a foreign monster crawling behind you. We have officially been planted inside of an abandoned war zone. Nothing is safe, and all is foggy around us. Asunder, Sweet is anything but separated and enjoyable. The nightmare continues even stronger now, as that fiery blaze of feedback comes back and bites you in the neck. Within this second ambient track, you will notice a lack of forgiveness and sympathy. You have gone through fifteen minutes of near silence and hard grievances at this point; What more does the album want from you?
After a cycling tornado of cacophony, you will hear a sudden blast of distorted bass, almost akin to something a sludge metal band would put out. This is Piss Crowns are Trebled: The final track on this album. It comes out of nowhere just when you waited fifteen minutes to see what you were doomed to face. It’s finally here, and it is one of the more bittersweet moments in Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s entire catalogue. The war drums now sound like army snares that fight in battle with you, even though the battle is clearly one sided against your favor. You will feel triumphant for the first time on the album, even though you know you and everyone else around you is doomed.
Piss Crowns are Trebled has some of the bands’ best string arrangements and guitar lines to date. The mid-song climax that starts about five and a half minutes in is one of the most gorgeous pieces the band has ever put together because of the stories the strings and guitars tell. The entire album builds up to this point, and the first time it came on, I almost could not handle it. I saw that some people had a tough time getting through the ambient pieces, but if you can, please listen to every track in order from start to finish. Not just because these ambient pieces are actually terrific, but because the pay off at this very moment is possibly one of the greatest pay offs you’ll have with any album this year. It isn’t the first time the band has almost brought me to tears, but it feels good to know that they still can.
The song ends with a note that is less to do with winning a battle and more to do with having your legacy go on. The song quietens down after this super mid section before roaring back with an epilogue that will leave you feeling satisfied. Piss Crowns are Trebled saved its star moment for the middle and thus it sends you off on a retreat back to Earth instead of punishing you any more. It’s a nice way to wrap up an album that knows it’s going to push its listeners to the very limits.
Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress is a sneaky album. It’s basically one long song in the vein of something Swans would feature at around the same length but amidst other songs on that same album. Godspeed You! Black Emperor don’t hide this. They’re back together after years of being apart, and they will take any opportunity to share their work with the masses that expect it. We don’t need only double disc mega albums. We just want anything that Godspeed You! Black Emperor can make work. Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress works incredibly well. It’s a bit more challenging than Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!, but it doesn’t make it any less worthwhile.
History repeats itself. The bandits came back on the album and did as promised: They ruined everything. We’re going through a recession, which has happened before throughout history. Countries are at war. The rich are getting richer. The powerful are getting corrupt. Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress is an instrumental reminder that we know what we will be facing if we just sit around like sheep. It’s far more pessimistic than Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!, but it may be all the more fitting despite being released merely three years later. Maybe our miserable fates will be made all the easier with this stunning album holding our hand as the world crashes and the monsters win.