The Irish trio God Is An Astronaut are rightly considered as one of the leaders of the post-rock genre. Since their inception in 2002, the band has consistently maintained a distinct sound in the post-rock scene. Driven by electronic music and atmospheric space rock, the band have built their reputation on killer performances both in studio and live on stage. 2018 sees the band return with their 8th full length record ‘Epitaph’.
Post-rock is one of the most versatile genres of the modern times. It can be dark and heavy or extremely ethereal and ambient. This not only allows bands to cover a large sonic landscape, but also weave a plethora of emotions into their music. Yet, most bands while getting the sound right, hardly touch the emotional aspect of the genre. Luckily for God Is An Astronaut, Niels and Torsten always had a good understanding of this aspect and the duo has always ensured that their music has not only the rich dynamics that their style allows, but also the emotional response it calls for. ‘Epitaph’ is no different, the album kicks off with the most calming atmospheric into in the title track “Epitaph” before lurching into a melancholia of riffs that almost cry out – gloom and despair, something one would expect from Bell Witch and not God Is An Astronaut.
“Mortal Coil” changes things around and is built around the free flowing percussion of drummer Lloyd Hanney, combined with the fantastic guest contribution of Jamie Dean on the keys. The track fuses elements of classical music, post metal and low-fi synth-wave with utmost perfection. On the other hand, “Seance Room” is a different beast altogether, bringing a much more darker vibe into the music. Driven by reverbing distorted guitar riffs and shoegaze atmospherics, if Deafheaven ever ventured into post-rock territory this would be what one would expect.
“Medea” and “Oisin “ end the album on a real strong note, with the former having one of the lightest atmosphere for the first half, before turning the tables and revealing a much more darker and horror laden second half. The concept of dualistic monism is best understood by the often-quoted example of yin and yang, but “Medea” serves as an equally good example. Opposites, which on the first look appear totally unrelated, but are actually complementary and interconnected. Happiness and sorrow and on a much more grimmer note, life and death are the two facets that one must accept as interconnected and the track reflects that in its sound. “Oisin” a track composed in memory of Torsten and Niels’ 7-year-old cousin who was tragically taken from this world, depicts the pain of losing a loved one from start to finish. It’s a fitting tribute whose each note depicts the sorrow and pain experienced by the duo, giving the album a perfect closure.
Yet the main question remains, how does ‘Epitaph’ stack up against the bands older material? Personally my biggest qualm with God Is An Astronaut has been their non-evolving sound. Everything since ‘All Is Violent, All Is Bright’ has felt a bit repetitive, as if the band decided to stick to their safe sound. That is were ‘Epitaph’ turns into an actual delight, as it shows the signs of a band ready to experiment with new sounds and ideas. But at the same time, the songwriting and structure lack the cohesive flow one expects from a post-rock album. It never manages to create the all absorbing atmosphere that the early works of God Is An Astronaut are known for. Over multiple listens, the music can quickly fade into background music at junctions which reduces the emotional impact ‘Epitaph’ aims for.
Nevertheless, ‘Epitaph’ is a record that sees God Is An Astronaut finally stepping out of their comfort zone, as the band brings in a wide plethora of influences ranging from shoegaze to doom metal to even synth-wave. The experience of the musicians on the record shines through as one is taken on a journey filled with an immaculate balance of grief, anger and peace.