Normally a 3-piece band, God is an Astronaut tours with 4 members, the Kinsella (twin) brothers, Niels & Torsten, Lloyd Hanney and Robert Murphy. Their style is hard to pin down crossing between post-rock, space rock and, some might consider, ambient. For me space rock is Hawkwind and ambient is elevator or phone ‘on hold’ music so I’ll stick with post rock.
Tonight the band were playing the final gig of a 3-date UK ‘tour’ having already been in London and Glasgow. The venue was the fairly intimate Club Academy, part of Manchester University students union and around 180 souls turned out to listen to the band.
Before the band took to the stage we were entertained by the electronica of Xenon Field and the heavier thump of White Ring, both duos. I suppose I should also mention that during the sound check the smoke generators worked overtime to the point that the fire alarms went off, the folks upstairs in the main entrance started to evacuate and the police turned up…oops!
Xenon Field on first then. A duo out of Dublin which, oddly, also features Robert Murphy alongside Conor Drinane. This is a mix of an electonica background supplemented by guitars and keyboards. The short set was entertaining enough, but I’m old school and for me the sound needed a little bit more meat and a little less electronic trickery. That’s not to say there was a lot wrong with it, there wasn’t, just not quite my ‘thing’.
A change of attitude next with White Ring. Another duo, Bryan Kurkimilis and Adina Viarengo, they darken the sound, still a mix of electronica mixed with keys and guitar and some ethereal vocal from Adina. The band claim to play ‘heavy body music’ and I have no handle on that whatsoever. Suffice it to say it was deep, dark and, very often, thumping, even a bit Numanesque at times. Another short set of heavy sound intermixed with some rather bizarre vocals that fitted well with the sound. I could imaging a ‘found footage’ horror film having some of this stuff as the soundtrack.
God is an Astronaut took their name from a line in a Clive Barker movie, Nightbreed. Strange? Perhaps, but there’s little strange about the quality of the music. Heavy electronic filters guide both the instruments and the vaporous vocals but there is some solid music behind this band’s sound that can be gentle post rock or far heavier post metal. The lyrics are often hard to pull out from the music, the vocals twisted and filtered to a point where they seem to be entirely electronically generated even though it’s obvious from live performances they’re not. While the filters are there much of the music seems largely untouched and is fabulous to listen to.
The band have recently released a new album, ‘Epitaph’, which, as the band explained in interview, was something of a bittersweet experience – but more of that later in the interview itself and in the album review.
The band had originally planned to follow on down the path of the previous album, ‘Helios | Erebus’, a fabulous piece of musicianship and one of my favourite albums of recent years. The inclusion of Robert Murphy allows the band to be fully functioning musically rather than have the need to sacrifice the guitar or keyboard, or, worse, reduce them to a backing track.
The band kick off the set with ‘Epitaph’, the title track from the new album, followed by ‘Mortal Coil’, also from the new album. You could immediately deduce from the track names what the new album is about, and you’d probably be right. No spoilers here, go and read the interview which will follow shortly.
From brand new to old stuff, ‘The End of the Beginning’ is next and was the title track off the band’s first album, released 16 years ago. Ethereal sounds occasionally rocked up and heavy get thrown out to the audience who sway and nod in unison.
The band stays with the older material as they get through ‘Frozen Twilight’ from their only EP, ‘A Moment of Stillness’ and this is followed by a brace from ‘All is Violent, All is Bright’, the title track first, and then ‘Fragile’; the title track being another of my favourites. Returning to the new album the audience get ‘Seance Room’, the theme continuing, and then ‘Medea’. The band then swing back to ‘All is Violent….’ for ‘Forever Lost’ and ‘Suicide by Star’. The first of these two starts slowly with backing keyboards sounding almost violin-like, then builds gradually before settling back to a gentle pace, then hitting the accelerator once more with more depth. ‘From Dust to the Beyond’ gets us close to the end but not before the band finish with another absolute cracker of a song, ‘Centralia’ from ‘Helios | Erebus’.
The band disappear to the dressing room and the audience aren’t sure whether they’re coming back or not so start to make a bit of noise. The band return to cheers. They finish the night off with the nearest they get to prog, the eight and a half minute title track from ‘Helios | Erebus’, and what a way to end it. This is another of those songs that starts off nice and gentle but ends with a heavy riff that’s hard to get out of your head. Between the two there’s a heavy metal interlude and some almost acoustic passages, this track has it all and I never get bored of it.
If you’re a fan of post-rock, space-rock or ‘ambient’ music that’s far better than elevator music give these lads a listen, they’re brilliant!
You can also look out for them on the European mainland later this year as they do an extended tour.
Words and pictures: Reg Richardson.