I’ve often wondered about the end of the world. The feeling used to be fear, but it has since turned into a cheerful anticipation. You may think me crazy, and probably rightfully so. I do have my reasons though. While there is always a chance that the end of the world could turn out to be like Edgar Allen Poe’s classic short tale “The Masque of the Red Death,” where in the end everybody dies, I like to entertain the thought that it will be different. I don’t have a particular theory about how
it will be different; maybe I’m just an optimist. But why should the end of the world be associated with such doom and gloom? Isn’t there a possibility that this world will end so a new one can begin? Of course, I’m probably wrong and we’re all going to die. Even so, I would very much like to see what it’s like when this world kicks the bucket. If the world opens its earthly jaws and swallows me up, at least the last thing I’ll ever get to do is appreciate the rarest form of beauty: an entire planet in its death throes.
From the looks of F# A# ∞, Godspeed You! Black Emperor favor the belief that the end of the world will be a thing of beauty as well. Considered by many to be one of the greatest post rock bands ever, these Canadians have consistently (up until Yanqui U.X.O. anyway) made some of the most stunning music I’ve ever heard. Many have told me that they had to give the band considerable time to grow on them before they enjoyed the music, but it was not so with me. I loved them the first time I heard the opening minutes of “The Dead Flag Blues” come out of my speakers. They’re one of my favorite bands, and will remain as such my whole life. To me, they’re the band that feels like home. In particular, this album is their best work, and my personal favorite album of all time. I do not trust myself to accurately convey the full spectrum of feelings one experiences while listening to these songs, but I will sure as hell try my best.
In an aesthetic sense, the songs are more like movements, each with their own theme. “The Dead Flag Blues” is the introduction to the apocalypse, and does its job quite admirably. It sets the mood as dark and dreary as a forlorn voice surveys the scene. “The car’s on fire, and there’s no driver at the wheel…” Truly depressing imagery, but don’t worry, you won’t feel depressed by the time the album ends. As the first track progresses, you may be quite surprised at what you hear if you’ve never delved that deep into the more experimental genres of music. Ambience, the sounds of a train, instruments you may consider unconventional for rock music: all of these are a part of the song. Surprisingly the song ends cheerfully with a xylophone; quite different from the way it began. With its droning strings and driving guitar riffs, as well as the “it’s the day after the apocalypse and there’s nothing left but a scorched earth” feel, “The Dead Flag Blues” is the perfect way to start the album off.
As the album goes on, Godspeed You! Black Emperor continue to show off their musical prowess. “East Hastings” begins with a preacher shouting his message, his only companion a set of bagpipes that sound as lonely as he does. Abysmal guitar riffs and pulsing drums drive this track, and it’s not without its fair share of ambience. “Providence” is the longest song, and perhaps the most satisfying. At first I thought the track was a bit frustrating to listen to, due to the fact that it has the most ambient sections on the album and even a period of four minutes of silence. However, it’s all worth it in the end, as we reach the climax of the album. Here is where my theory that GY!BE believe the end of the world is a thing of joy and beauty comes from. While it’s certainly a thing of interpretation, the last few minutes of the album is an energetic romp, perhaps signifying the final spurts of life from the world, and finally coming to its final rest. On the other hand, it could be a new civilization beginning, or the first signs of life from the survivors. Either way, the ending fits the album perfectly and does a fantastic job of doing what music is supposed to do: let the listeners determine for themselves what the music is saying.
This is the perfect album. It exemplifies what music should be: emotional, inspirational, and it makes you think and wonder. Growing time aside, I can almost guarantee that you will eventually like this album. I started this review with disjointed musings about the end of the world. When I listen to this album, I come to this conclusion and I have to say that I am content with it…
If I never get to see the end of the world, at least I got to hear it.