Across nearly 20 years, Irish outfit God Is an Astronaut have spearheaded an intense and ethereal brand of (mostly) instrumental post-rock akin to the cinematic ruminations of Mogwai, Godspeed You! Black Emperor and Explosions in the Sky. The quartet's 10th album, Ghost Tapes #10, is due out February 12th via Napalm Records (you can pre-order it here), yet for all their staying power, the group is hardly a household name, at least not outside of specialized circles. With that mind, we caught up with Torsten Kinsella (guitar, piano/synths) to get a crash course on God Is an Astronaut from an original band member. He gave us 10 songs — one from each of their albums — that provide a career-spanning introduction.
The End of the Beginning (2002)
We began God Is an Astronaut in 2002, The End of the Beginning was more or less our farewell to the music industry after nearly 10 years of trying to make an impression. We wanted to create one last project with the sole purpose to self-release something we genuinely believed in rather than trying make music we felt a label might be interested in. The name was inspired by a Clive Barker movie/novel Nightbreed — the whole quote was "All things are true. God's an Astronaut. Oz is Over the Rainbow, and Midian is where the monsters live." We shortened it to God Is an Astronaut. When The End of the Beginning was written, we weren't yet a band. It was strictly an electronic studio project — just Niels [Kinsella, bass, guitars, visuals] and myself, Lloyd [Hanney, drums] hadn't yet joined the group.
The album was made with an Akai S3000 sampler and Roland XP80 sequencer keyboard. It's an album that was mainly comprised of loops with a simple arrangement/structure, its sentiment was very much based on the Apocalypse Culture. We had no expectations or intentions of being a post-rock band — it was considered to be trip-hop/dance. The title track, "The End of the Beginning," I feel sums up the vibe perfectly.
All Is Violent, All Is Bright (2005)
The sound of this album was born out of the live performances of The End of the Beginning. When we performed the songs live, instead of using the drum loops, we replaced them with live drums and more guitars, which simply worked better in a live setting, and our sophomore album, All Is Violent, All Is Bright, naturally included those changes. I can remember a review where they said this album bridges the gap between shoegaze and post-rock — that was the first time I realized we were no longer considered dance. This album has a melancholy, winter feel to it. Songs like "Fragile" were directly about my social anxiety. It's a deeply personal album. If I were to choose one song to represent it, it would be "Suicide by Star," which is a fan favorite live.
Fearghal McKee [Whipping Boy] came up with the name during a conversation we had about the Phil Spector incident with his girlfriend Lana Clarkson. All Is violent, All Is Bright was the album that put us on the map.
A Moment of Stillness (2006)
Initially, this was just an EP, but in 2012 we added some older B-sides to it and it became an album. After All Is Violent, All Is Bright, this felt like the tranquil aftermath. "Frozen Twilight" is the song that captures the sentiment of the album. Isolated, loneliness, darkness colliding with beauty, this is our most played song on Spotify.
Far From Refuge (2007)
I can remember being inspired by Pink Floyd's performance Live at Pompeii. This album is more about the musicianship and less about the electronic soundscapes. "Tempus Horizon" is a great introduction to the album.
God Is an Astronaut (2008)
The self-titled record was written during a time with lots of touring. While we still had songs like "First Day of Sun," which captured a dream of a different life, a different path, but the song "Echoes" best represents what the band sounded like live while still retaining the melancholic melodies of the other albums.
Age of the Fifth Sun (2010)
This album was more of a progressive-rock album. "In the Distance Fading" touched on how we can be very close to someone but then it ends and they become a distant memory, but the song I feel best represents this album is the title track, "Age of the Fifth Sun," which features a very musical guitar riff with an apocalyptic feel.
This, I guess, was our experimental album. It was a collaboration with musician, producer, friend Pat O'Donnell who contributed before on earlier albums, but not to this extent. Origins was written with a different technique — we began with putting lots of noise soundscapes down first and then try to sculpture something out of it and later added the instrumentation versus writing a piece on a piano or guitar first and then building soundscapes around it. Songs like "Weightless" and "Reverse World" demonstrate this. Pat had encouraged a bigger vocal presence on this album with mixed results. My favorite song on this record would be "The Last March"
Helios | Erebus (2015)
With Helios | Erebus, we knew we had to go back to what we did best. It was self-released with little or no promotion. We relied on our fans word by mouth. Overall, it was an album of light and shade. The title track, "Helios | Erebus," which encompasses all the sides of the sound of that album into one song.
Our last album, Epitaph, was written in memory of our seven-year-old cousin whose life was tragically taken. The album is dedicated to him and is our way to say goodbye and for us to come to terms with this most tragic incomprehensible loss. This is by far the darkest and most personal record we have ever written.
The music brings you to some of the dark, traumatic and somber moments that we had experienced, but it was important to capture some of the happier times. "Oisín" was written on the day we received the most devastating news. I sat in front of my piano with so much emotion, once the first few notes poured out, it was as if the song had been written before and I had to try and remember to put it back together again.
"Epitaph" best represents the album. It captures the true overwhelming dread and ugliness.
Ghost Tapes #10 (2021)
Ghost Tapes #10 isn't about a specific event but is more of a reflection over the last two years. Stylistically, it's much more up-tempo, intense and progressive than all of our previous albums, with more intricate timing signatures and a new raw live sound. I think "Fade," our current single, best captures the overall mood and new direction on this album. It's a song filled with intensity, angst and frustration with an overwhelming urge to escape and somehow just move forward. We had the opportunity to reshape our sound. We experimented with amps and pedals. We were very pleased with the sound and sold the digital amp modellers. The new sound is rawer and more expressive.