When last we encountered God Is An Astronaut
within these pages, it was to review their album, All
Is Violent, All Is Bright. It was a lovely discovery,
which afforded us the opportunity to wax poetically about twinkling
constellations and distant horizons. Yet even before the last
rumble of that album's lovely thunder had subsided, I had begun
to harbour concerns for our Irish trio. Where could they go
from here? Far From Refuge is their answer, an
album which, as the name might suggest, avoids playing it safe
on any level.
The pulsar-beats that kick-start opener Radau could almost be cousins to Prince's Sign Of The Times, but their coolness is soon overtaken by pounding snare drum and cymbals. In turn, even this most persuasive of percussion will submit to a surge of skyward guitars. Welcome back, God Is An Astronaut! Their trademark guitar melodies remain intact, but things have taken a noticeable turn for the darker. The difference this time around is in the mix. Bass and drums are not only more prominent, but the role they play has altered. Where once they supported the melodies like a comfort blanket, here on Far From Refuge, they whirl, collide and compete. Like the bag in the wind scene in American Beauty, Radau proves far more effective than we had any right to expect.
The title track feels as though we are back on familiar God Is An Astronaut territory, but that sure-footed rhythm section is on hand again to remind us not to make assumptions. The band really rocks here. These bass-lines would be more at home in a nu-metal or funk rock arena. Is Flea (Red Hot Chili Peppers) moonlighting in God Is An Astronaut these days? Seriously though, what is clear to me is that God Is An Astronaut are striving to recapture the energy of their live shows. All was bright before, but the violence was conspicuous by its absence. Here, Far From Refuge, literally is a less safe place to tread. For every dazzling light there is shadow, and for every slice of beauty there is another more threatening passage.
Patience is a virtue worth any listener bringing along to this album. New Years End really is as perfect an example of the dichotomy of God Is An Astronaut. In isolation, it's a lovely piece, to be admired and enjoyed in equal measure. However, as one of a succession of instrumentals it loses impact. In this band's world, we can't see the trees for the wood, and it's a pity because these trees are exquisite. Yet if any of these nine tracks had been THE instrumental track on an otherwise conventional rock album, they would probably work beautifully. The minimal, piano-led Darkfall is as varied as things get. Actually, I really enjoyed this phase of the album, from Darkfall through Tempus Horizon and onto the close of the album with Beyond the dying light.
It's pleasure to see God Is An Astronaut back. They've allayed my inner fears that they might have been a spent force, and I'm delighted that they've shown the ambition they have and not merely stand still. Just be warned, they are no longer the comfy pair of slippers that they used to be.