For Fans Of
Music produced in the context of a traumatic event has a certain magic to it that is impossible to both fully articulate and recreate, more often than not resulting in career-defining works for the artists involved. Whether such events be the breakdown of relationships (Bon Iver’s ‘For Emma, Forever Ago‘), the passing of family members (Sufjan Stevens‘ ‘Carrie & Lowell’), or simply an explosion of grief through sheer aggression (Metallica’s ‘…And Justice For All’), such emotions channeled through music can produce something timeless; a snapshot in the lives of the musicians at an incredibly specific point.
Such is the case with ‘Epitaph’, the heart-wrenchingly moving new LP from instrumental post-rock stalwarts God Is An Astronaut. Written and produced in response to the horrible circumstance of the death of band members Torsten and Niels Kinsella’s seven-year-old cousin, (hence the child showed standing beneath the archway on the album’s front cover), this record is by far the darkest outing in the band’s career yet. However, it also offers rays of immense beauty and sensitivity, not unlike a sunset emerging through the clouds of a bleak storm.
By far the Irish group’s most cinematic record, the piano and keys take centre stage here with a majority of the LP riding on Niels’ haunting instrumental lines. A song like ‘Mortal Coil’ is positively crushing in weight and anger, with the pounding of the keys providing a tragic pulse over the screaming guitar work. Likewise, the title track opens with a world of beauty and ethereal calm, before descending into a doom-laden funeral march, scratching the surface and trying to find a glimmer of hope. It might just be the most standard ‘post-rock’ song on this record, but don’t go throwing that label around in regard to the entire LP anytime soon!
For one feels that GIAA has truly thrown off that sometimes dreaded genre tag here, unlocking their own unexplored tundra of dynamics and textures. ‘Komorebi‘ follows more minimalist lines, building glimmers of light around the cascading piano work, whilst closing track ‘Oisín‘ softly ushers in a sense of acceptance in the form of a tender ballad to let the record softly float away into the ether.
Where the band truly hit a new and exciting stride, however, is on the triumphantly resilient ‘Winter Dusk/Awakening‘. True to its name, the song is a classical work of hope and new beginnings, starting with scatterings of light in the dark before building into a somewhat Celtic call to action. Driven by the tribal drum work of Lloyd Hanney pedalling the band into a focused rhythm, the inertia here allows the piece to develop into a lumbering giant of a staggering atmospheric work. A truly huge achievement for a group that’s this far down their career path now.
Many will cry foul about the lack of heavy songs to go around on ‘Epitaph‘. While the record is indeed the band’s softest offering to date, in some cases, it is also the hardest to digest. This record rewards the listener with some dynamically astounding moments, notably the aforementioned march of ‘Mortal Coil‘, and the sheer musical hurricane that develops out of ‘Medea’. However, the greatest thing about this new record is the fact that it offers a fresh dimension to the likes of 2015’s ‘Helios/Erebus’ and the band’s staple classic, ‘All Is Violent, All Is Bright’.
Sure, the Mogwai-like moments are admittedly still present here – most notably on ‘The Seance Room’ – but that doesn’t prevent ‘Epitaph’ from being, by a country mile, GIAA’s most intriguing, in-depth and in some cases, the most exciting record of their entire catalogue.
The rawest and most vulnerable that this Irish band has ever been, ‘Epitaph’, while inspired by tragedy, was the record that this band needed to make to allow their musical and creative evolution to continue. Not a listen for someone who is after a dose of the heavies, if you allow it to immerse you in a world of bleakness and sorrow, with small rays of hope and love breaking through the clouds, you shall be richly rewarded by one of God Is An Astronaut’s strongest records to date.
- Mortal Coil
- Winter Dusk/Awakening
- Seance Room
‘Epitaph’ is out this Friday, April 27th via Napalm Records.