God is an Astronaut are no stranger to the readers of Somewherecold. We wrote about them early on in the site and have listened to them ever since. Helios | Erebus is their seventh studio album. After the controversial Origins, GIAA have returned to their roots here but there is a more ambient flavor to some of the tracks. They have become thoughtful, patient composers that mix ambient sensibilities with driving guitars and walls of sound. Niels, Torsten, Jamie, and Lloyd have produced a tour de force with Helios | Erebus. That said, let’s turn to the tracks themselves.
Helios | Erebus begins with the low hum of distorted guitar. This leads into bright guitar being picked along with low synths and the beginning pound of toms. It’s a dramatic beginning to this eight track album. It sets the mood perfectly. Like on previous albums, the track title, “Agneya”, points the listener to mythology. This time, however, it is from Hindu mythology that the title is drawn. Agneyī is the daughter of the fire god Ūru. Agneya means “flammable” or “fiery”. Given the title of the album, we are quickly introduced to the Helios half of the equation which is a theme that stretches throughout.
“Pig Powder” follows and begins with beautiful ambience and God is an Astronaut’s signature guitar sound. It is somber and melancholy. This album definitely has a darker side than their previous Origins. Drums fill out the track while guitars playfully dance on top of the continued ambience. About three minutes in, GIAA turns up the guitars and brings a staccato drum feel. Melancholy turns almost to anger as the volume rises in the track. The track fades out with ambience and rumbling as if to take the listener into a void. This leads to what might be my favorite track on the disc, “Vetus Memoria”.
“Vetus Memoria”, or perhaps ancient memory, begins with spacey guitars and a low rumble before introducing a second guitar that works playfully with the already established one. Piano comes in dramatically and the build begins. What is masterful about this track is the subtle inclusion of new elements as it builds to a massive wall of guitars. In between, the track speeds up with an accelerated tempo and bass line. The synths hum with glittery sounds moving in between. At about 3:30, the guitars build into the mix and then a wall of sound erupts at 3:49. As the track fades, the listener is led into an ethereal soundscape with “Finem Solis”. This is an ambient piece that floats through the speakers which hum, with soaring, blissed out sonics in between the waves of ambient tones. At about 3:00, the spaced out sounds turn into a loud, low rumble and begin to fade, leading into blissful, slow guitar. Perhaps GIAA are leading the listener into the second half of the album and something more hopeful.
The title track to the disc, “Helios | Erebus”, begins the second half of the album starting with ambience. It’s a nice connection to the previous track and therefore the first half of the disc. The guitars come in rather quickly and there is definitely a more hopeful tone here. However, Erebus in Greek mythology is the personification of darkness. “Helios Erebus” therefore sets up a dichotomy of light and dark. The more spaced out ambience and softer guitar tones eventually turn into driving, distorted guitars. Perhaps, here, we are listening to the conflict between good and evil, light and dark. If anything, GIAA are brilliant at telling stories with their soundscapes. The second half of the longest track on the disc (8:31) begins with vocals that are recessed deep into the mix. Again, GIAA erupt into a massive wall of sound as the track is driven to its conclusion.
“Obscura Somnia”, or perhaps “Dark Dreams”, is another track full of ambient textures and broad soundscapes. Acoustic guitar plays on top of these textures and it floats through the track. Vocals come in and accent as different sounds begin to fill out the track’s spaces. This is brilliant work and incredibly beautiful. The textures change and voices fill the void. There is no eruption here, no wall of sound, no distorted angry guitars. This is GIAA at is most ambient and it’s awesome. Without a gap or pause, “Obscura Somnia” leads into “Centralia”.
“Centralia” is a medium tempo track at its inception with a very heavy bass-line. This track feels most like early GIAA to me. The synth tones and guitar tones connect this track to prior outings by the band. However, I think it shows an evolution in their prior choice of soundscapes. They have mastered the build. They have become adept at filling spaces in the track with great patience and letting it breath before moving the listener forward. About halfway through the track, the guitars come to the fore and Niels turns up the fuzz on his bass, providing a deep rumble. The staccato guitar hook thumps in the speakers and synths rise in volume as the crescendo is finally reached. This leads to the finale of the album “Sea of Trees”. Again, we begin with a more ambience and guitar picking but it doesn’t last long until the drums and a fuller arrangement of drums, bass, synths and guitars come into the mix. It seems GIAA are looking to end their tour de force on a brighter note as this track lacks that melancholy feel of other moments on the disc. It is bright, beautiful, ambient, and a perfect finale for this disc that dances between light and darkness.
Instrumental bands can be difficult to write about because words always fall short when describing the emotions and compositions one finds on such an album or track. That said, God is an Astronaut have produced one of their best albums to date. Their continued drive for perfect composition, carefulness, and patience coupled with a rich musical acumen makes for a musical experience well worth taking many times over. I cannot wait to see what they come up with next!