A wall of amps the size of the Rockies, supernovae, guitars shattering from the sounds being torn from them, the northern lights, endless arrays of effects pedals… those are the kinds of images that readily come to mind while listening to Those Who Tell The Truth Shall Die, Those Who Tell The Truth Shall Live Forever. However, Explosions in the Sky will just as quickly twist your heart and bring a tear to your eye with their simple melodies, or with a single, pure note ringing out amongst the chaos. Either way, Those Who Tell The Truth Shall Die… is a guaranteed emotional listen. But the fact that they take both approaches, and handle both equally well at that, is what allows this Texas quartet to rise above similar sounding noiseniks.
Well, in a way, that is. At first listen, Explosions in the Sky is easily lumped in along with the Mogwai’s and Godspeed’s of today’s post-rock climate. Take a simple riff and slowly build on it, add in gloomy atmospheres and plaintive samples, push it forward with crashing drums and cymbals, and wait for all manners of sonic hell to break loose. Throw in some cryptic song titles that read more like excerpts from the Dead Sea Scrolls than anything else, and you’re all good.
One of my musically-inclined friends is fond of pointing out that “they’re not doing anything I couldn’t do,” and in a way he’s right. There’s nothing original here, so if you’re looking for the next saviors of post-rock, well my friend, this ain’t it. But Explosions in the Sky takes what should be a tried and true musical formula that, for all intents and purposes, is tragically cliched, and turns it into something primal and affecting. When Explosions in the Sky reaches a song’s apex, they still hit with such resonance that you’d better find shelter — or wait for the storm to blow over before picking up the pieces.
“Greet Death” sets the mood quite well, with guitar riffs the size of a mushroom cloud. But after the initial shockwave, the fallout settles down and a desolate, rustic note rings out. This feeling is punctuated by a slide guitar that conjures up all of the sadness and longing of Godspeed You Black Emperor!, minus all of that Canadian manifesto stuff.
The sample that begins “Have You Passed Through This Night?” (taken from The Thin Red Line) seems old hat at first; a man ponders the nature of evil (“How did it steal into the world? Who’s killing us? Robbing us of light and life. Mocking us with the sight of what we might have known.”) amidst eerie, ambient guitar figures. But something in his voice, the way it trembles and pauses with haunting anguish, is captured and reinforced by the music slowly building around it.
“Have You Passed Through This Night?” fades into the martial drumbeat of “A Poor Man’s Memory.” Carefully plucked guitars slowly construct the song’s melody over several minutes, building to a climax that always stands up the hairs on the back of your neck. It’s reminiscent of Mogwai’s “Christmas Steps,” both in form and sound, but if you were to put the two songs head to head, it’s difficult to say which one would come out victorious. It’s the sort of track that immediately hooks you, but can still humble and excite you every time you hear it.
I’ll admit that I’m a big sucker for the kind of sound that Explosions in the Sky creates. No matter how many times I hear this kind of post-millennial angst and tribulation — be it in the gospel-ized psych-rock of Lift To Experience, the gloomy symphonies of Godspeed You Black Emperor!, or the louder-than-loudness of Mogwai — it always gets to me. There’s something in the music of these bands that hits me right where I live, something almost Biblical in scale, and just as spiritual. Explosions in the Sky taps into the same something that all of those bands (to name but a few) have mined so richly, and have returned with pure gold of their own… and, Lord willing, it will the first of many such rewards.