Review Summary: The end of an era. The beginning of a new one.
Ten years between albums is a long time, but in the time Godspeed You! Black Emperor have been away from us, their largely underground legacy has continued to bubble away. It’s quite impressive for a band whose biggest claim to mainstream fame is that a bit of their music was used in the background of a certain zombie film, but Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s mediaphobia and unique style, which has barely ever put a foot wrong, have together contributed to the mystique that has continued to fascinate fans during their prolonged hiatus.
In typical Godspeed You! Black Emperor style, ’Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!
has been released without warning and with barely a whisper uttered. Hardly the level of hype you’d expect from one of the biggest cult bands of the past 15 years, but as is the style Godspeed You! Black Emperor practically epitomise, they let the music do every word of the talking. And when you listen to the music you can understand why.
Everything you’d expect from Godspeed You! Black Emperor is here. The mesmerising sample that introduces the album before giving way to a collection of strings, the crackling, the fragments of various unknown instruments, the entrance of the guitars as they fizzle into life, the mysteriously deformed twinkles which ooze into the atmosphere and the faint trembling of percussion. Some may call it repetitive, but it is really the genius of Godspeed You! Black Emperor which allows us to be eased into the music, flooding our conscious and submerging us into the sound. And it’s from here, with everything present and correct, that the music comes together and breathes life. The guitars form something more coherent and after a while the drums come in, punching in a pulse and giving the music its body as with every repetition you can almost feel the music reaching the point where, now pulsating and dense with harmonic texture, it rises up and slides into the motif which defines “Mladic”. It is a fuzzy riff- more distorted than is typical of Godspeed You! Black Emperor and giving faint connotations of the wailing, angelic guitar lines of “Static”. But with a distinctly Balkan twist. The music, now in full flow, spreads its wings into violins, grainy guitar lines on both sides and delicate yet dark motifs which define the atmosphere later on in the track. And as it dies down, the violin plays its melancholic respite as the distortion of guitars trails off. It’s grandiose, captivating and not a single space is left unfilled.
The two drone tracks, “Their Helicopter’s Sing” and “Strung Like Lights At Thee Printemps”, are detailed clusters of conflicting harmonies, scraps of melody and murmurs of distortion which create the deeply atmospheric gaps between the main acts. But they are essential to the album as a whole- the transport between the climaxes and the bodies which through the chaos, the dazzling can emerge. Or in reverse- the dazzling crumbling into bedlam.
The instruments are distinct, and no more so than on “We Drift Like Worried Fire”, where the devastating atmosphere is incarnate in delicate keyboard notes, cries of violin in the distance and a throbbing double bass, all separate, giving their own performances and crying for one another. And from there the music matures again. “We Drift Like Worried Fire” may not contain a particular riff or moment which typifies it, like brother “Mladic” or “East Hastings”, but its part in the grand scheme is that of a marriage of instruments, sporadic melodies and atmosphere. It sounds much like what other post rock bands have attempted over the past ten years - focusing on texture - but which have ended up in soulless, bland lumps. Not for Godspeed You! Black Emperor. Every detail in the gaps is there, from the bold guitar lines to the wails of violin in the background and the indispensable drums which are absolutely essential in fulfilling the ever-changing dance of rhythm which hypnotises us into the beat of the music. All of these seemingly blind aspects come together at the right time and place to create a singular mass full of emotion and purpose.
Yet, not is all the same. At just shy of 54 minutes, ’Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!
is noticeably shorter than Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s previous LPs. And subsequently, there is a more grounded and gritty feel to the album in comparison to the soaring apocalypse of something like Lift Your Skinny Fists…
. In some ways, the album feels like a mix of that album and Yanqui U.X.O
. There are some of the celestial moments exemplified on the former but they are mixed in with a grittier, more human sound. Altogether, the album has its own identity and with all of these, it is an album which finally marks the end of the journey Godspeed You! Black Emperor started in 1997 and abandoned five years later. Yanqui U.X.O
may have left a bitter taste in many a fan’s mouth, but with other pieces of music that Godspeed You! Black Emperor have been playing live for nine years finally being released on ’Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!
, it showcases the atmosphere, humanity and magic that defined their period 1997-2002, and finally brings a closure to that era. From now, it is the future for Godspeed You! Black Emperor, and what that
will bring is a new unknown.