God is an Astronaut are a post-rock band hailing from the Glen of the Down in County Wicklow, an area just South of Dublin. The band was established in 2002 since when they have released 8 full studio albums plus 1 EP; Epitaph is the latest of those 8 albums and the bands’ first with Napalm Records. God is an Astronaut are twin brothers Niels & Torsten Kinsella along with Lloyd Hanney.
The band play a version of post-rock that calls upon elements of space-rock and ambient genres to create ethereal music with few vocals and what vocals there are, are generally filtered and twisted into something almost inhuman. Generally the band have a very easy-going sound, sometimes lively, bordering on classic rock, sometimes less so falling more into the mould of post-rock. This album is different, it was influenced by real events that affected the band and when those events centre on personal loss then the music becomes much more meaningful. When that personal loss is of one who was very young then that meaningfulness is amplified many times over – and that is the case here.
The album starts with the title track, a slow and very deliberate piece of music. The slowness at the start is almost dirge-like as it sets a contemplative mood before moving to some underworldly and very threatening tones. At 8 minutes long this wanders into the realms of prog and while the signature sounds of the band are openly apparent the sadness this is meant to convey is clear.
The story behind Mortal Coil is one of a life ending when a troubled life gets too much to handle. While this is not directly related to the events that spawned the album as a whole the theme of death and the subsequent loss felt is wholly relevant. Not as dark as Epitaph, this is more upbeat and is more in the way of a celebration of a life rather than the mourning of its passing.
Winter Dusk/Awakening is a track written before the series of events unfolded that ultimately gave the album direction. Despite the events not having a direct bearing on the track the intonation fits in with the other songs so well that it could have been written after the events too. Perhaps the band unconsciously foresaw what was about to disrupt their lives. This is gentle, musical, a joy to listen to, a song for personal reflection. The song finishes with a flourish, the awakening if you will, the Spring to the Winter’s dusk.
Séance Room sees the half way point on the album pass and it does so by a revisiting of the previous albums….to a degree, as the beat increases and the energy comes forth. Will the séance reveal a friend or something darker? Certainly there are some very dark, almost black metal passages here, perhaps the séance has revealed something it shouldn’t!
Komorebi is Japanese, it has no English translation but is a word used to describe the effect of sunlight streaming through the trees and the sunbeams and shadows created by it. This is another piece of music for self reflection, a beautifully calm track that slowly opens out before suddenly closing in again rather like the contrast between the light and the dark of the sunbeams and shadows.
The penultimate track is Medea, who was traditionally known as a Greek enchantress and wife of Jason (of Argonauts fame). In Greek literature Medea is abandoned by Jason so this song can be seen as one of despair and perhaps, in its darker passages, revenge as she was known to have killed her children and the tragic ending of a youthful life is one that is very real here although under very different circumstances.
The final track is Oisin and is dedicated to the young life lost. This fairly melancholic track is a fitting reminder as it develops, as a life develops, into something that should have been wonderful but ended long before that goal was reached.
The album, as a whole, is beautifully crafted and is probably best listened to in a time of reflection. It’s not Helios | Erebus (the previous, and superb, album), it’s not the next instalment to that, this is a standalone album that tells stories of loss and, often, despair. That’s not to say it’s a miserable album, far from it but it might take you to dark places!
Review by Reg Richardson