The knock I've heard on post-rock is that there's an inordinant amount of navel-gazers playing this sort of music; tracks that are described as 'operatic' or 'epic' by some are derided as 'repetitive' or 'droning' by others. This isn't helped by the fact that this genre contains as many shysters as it does genuine keepers of the faith, and there are those content to filter the same chord progressions through numerous effects pedals for what seems like a small lifetime in the attempt to look sincere. But every once in a while, a band like God Is An Astronaut comes along, proving just how much creativity and imagination this music requires, and how breathtaking the results can be when's it's done right.
The Irish trio present critics with an added problem with their album, All Is Violent, All Is Bright: the music it contains is almost impossible to describe in such a way as to do it justice. I could expound on the beauty and menace of this music for pages and pages and still come absolutely nowhere near an accurate depiction. Torsten Kinsella (vocals, guitars, piano) and his brother Niels (bass and guitar) and Lloyd Hanney (drums and synths) have created fantastically broad and lush soundscapes for their listeners to explore. The songs are crammed with atmospherics, tension, melodrama and - amazingly for a band that only includes vocals as an extra instrument - emotional draw. Repeated spins reveal All Is Violent, All Is Bright to be a meticulously assembled vision - twisting the volume knob down reveals the kinks and components of the massive walls of sound that are capable of melting your eardrums at high levels.
'Fragile', the album's grandiose opener, kicks things off impressively; a chiming guitar and menacing synth-lines build up the tension before hissing symbols and a slow, stately drumbeat join in, and the track reaches a majestic crescendo. It's like watching a thunderhead slowly approach from the distance; dark, towering and fat with tension. Then the storm breaks: a punishing drum attack hits you in the gut as the rest of the band swoop skyward, the guitar lines and synths climbing like a space shuttle fighting the Earth's pull until it shudders, threatening to fly apart in mid-air... and then it's gone and you're left breathless, drenched and shattered. After such a strong opener, a lesser outfit would find themselves flailing about in an attempt to follow it; what's incredible is how easily the rest of of the album lives up to the promise set by 'Fragile'.
All Is Violent, All Is Bright's main strength is its incredible consistency in two crucial areas. Firstly, in its high level of quality; there's no fat anywhere on this disc, no lulls, no long-stretches where you're tempted to reach for the skip button and the music continues its rewards with repeated listens. Every track has something - whether it's the haunting piano riff that opens 'Remembrance Day' (which sounds slightly like the outro to 'The Perfect Drug' by Nine Inch Nails), or the visceral guitar attack that closes out 'Fire Flies And Empty Skies'. Every track contains some moment guaranteed to pull the listener back for a second helping.
The album's second weapon is its raw emotive power. Despite the wordless singing, or in fact because of it, this music cuts straight past the intellectual centres and goes straight to the sensory receptors; after the sombre intro of the title track, the jagged guitar that sidles into the mix can stand the hairs of your neck on end, and the mournful, picked guitar that shimmers at the centre of 'Infinite Horizons' can choke up the throat of the hardest of souls. For an example of how much dramatic weight Hanney and the brothers Kinsella wield, listen to 'Forever Lost', where a delicate piano breaks into warm guitars and synths which waft along on a smooth beat. Then, on one guitar strum, the bottom drops out of the track, and you're left with predatory bass and ominous-sounding guitar for company as the track gently steers you from one end of the emotional scale to the other and back again.
If there's one criticism that one could conceivably level at All Is Violent, All Is Bright, it's that the songs don't segue into one another. After a couple of listens, the separate tracks stop feeling like stand-alone moments in their own right and start to resound more when they're considered parts of an epic, cohesive whole. But compared to the album's strengths, this grievance seems miniscule. God Is An Astronaut's new full-length places them in a league with giants, and one can only imagine the undreamed of heights this band may reach in later years if the staggering promise they display on All Is Violent, All Is Bright continues to be fulfilled.
9Nick Cowen's Score