Review Summary: At a time where post-rock is more a joke than a reputable genre, Godspeed You! Black Emperor return from Valhalla to show the world how it's done.
The world over, fans and admirers of music could barely express both the surprise and excitement of Godspeed You! Black Emperor reuniting after an extended hiatus. After nearly a decade long break, it didn’t take long for this little get together to spiral into delusions of new material-something to solidify that the band had truly triumphantly returned. It has been roughly two years since the reformation. These years have been agonizing for some, as the band was tight-lipped in regards to a new record. Touring and experiencing the band live were all well and good, but they didn’t replace that special feeling of discovery that accompanies listening to a new record. While not a band to hype themselves up, GY! BE decided to shock the world by dropping their latest record the best way they know how--subtly and naturally.
It seems odd, really, that such a niche band could surprisingly release a record in secret only to make the world go wild. This is a testament to the music the band produced in their hay day, those ten years ago. To discuss the sound, influence, and philosophy behind Godspeed You! Black Emperor would be an exercise in futility. Not because of the sheer immensity that accompanies each of those facets (although that is very fitting) but rather, GY! BE aren’t ones to straddle the limelight. No, the Canadian post-rock band revels in the obfuscated darkness. Their music lacks that perfect classification, and is impossible to fully uncover. Understanding the full meaning behind the twisted apocalypse of F#A# Infinity
is just as difficult as breaking down every minute detail of Lift Your Skinny Fists…
. Despite how much this goes against the grain, fans have been drawn to this since the band’s inception. It’s sometimes easy to dismiss music so contorted from what we expect; music that isn’t handed to us on a platter, ripe for dissection. Rather, GY! BE presents us with the thrill of the chase, and an album that reminds us that music can still be an experience so visceral that it defies classification.
'Allelujah! Don't Bend! Ascend!
is the band’s first record in 10 years, with the last being 2002’s Yanqui U.X.O
. The latter saw a shift towards more concise songwriting. A bold move that was met with mixed reception. Rather than adhere to winding melodies interspersed with stretched out builds, the album was a bit more dynamic with less “filler” in between explosive moments. Although more immediate, it didn’t quite have the emotional punch that was so palpable on their other works. 'Allelujah! Don't Bend! Ascend!
follows its predecessor, but luckily GY! BE don’t forget to add a little of themselves this time around. The album has the explosive, attention grabbing hook of Yanqui U.X.O
, the dark solemnity of F#A# (Infinity)
, and a dash of that grandiosity that seeped out of every pore in Lift Your Skinny Fists…
. This is a Godspeed record through and through.
Yet the biggest question is how Godspeed fares in a world that has since moved on without them. While certainly not the first post-rock band, their influence on the genre is immeasurable. Countless bands cite them as a key influence, many of which have risen to prominence in the last decade. Post-rock has since progressed, and then seemingly regressed. While absent, GY! BE never really left, and that is made very clear with 'Allelujah! Don't Bend! Ascend!
. Technically, the songs found on the record are merely re-purposed songs that have been played on tour for years. This may be a bit of a disappointment as the material has been around since the hiatus.
The album has a bit of an odd structure. Two massive songs separated by a “drone” track, with one ending the entire thing. On paper, content seems a bit thin, with only two “true” songs composing the entire affair. However, no one complains about Slow Riot for New Zerø Kanada
--a recording that is often considered one of the band’s best. That is simply because in a couple of songs Godspeed are able to do more than some bands can accomplish in an entire discography. Sweeping soundscapes and heart wrenching climaxes are the order of the day, but the band truly shines with the intense silences and builds. All of this adds up to a record that may appear brief on the surface, but has immeasurable breadth and depth.
The album opens up with “Mladic,” one of the two 20 minute behemoths. As expected, the track is absolutely massive both in length and scope. It begins with one of the band’s staple samples, and takes its time simmering. There are some shining moments here as the musicians do a phenomenal job at building intensity. It’s a practice in patience, as the path to the cathartic explosion has multiple layers, with many lulls and valleys spread throughout. Here is where the true genius of Efrim Menuck is found. While many post-rock bands find contentment in open chords, tremolo picked leads, and reverb heavy pummeling, Menuck knows exactly what the hell he is doing, and he does it well. His contribution to the band is difficult to overestimate as many of the textures found on the album are because of him. Certain guitar dominated segments give the song that very familiar feel that only Godspeed can invoke. Even when things get a little bizarre, Menuck is there at the forefront making sense of it all, particularly during the song’s midway point. “Mladic” stresses the importance of what surrounds the boldest part of the track, rather than place sole emphasis on the loudest and fiercest moments. The climax is exciting and majestic, but the path to it and the resolution are just as incredible, with the final five minutes being awe-inspiring.
The “drone” tracks are placed separately into a 7”, but at the same time have their own spots within the record as a whole. Initially their importance may not be fully understood, but after the utterly exhausting “Mladic,” “Their Helicopters’ Sing” comes as a refreshing breather. The aforementioned track bisects the two larger pieces, and is the darker of the two shorter pieces. It is formless and convoluted, with eerie sounds sprinkled about the six minute run-time. It essentially has no structure, which is a startling transition from the meticulously plotted “Mladic.” The closer is much less eventful in that it has a more ambient sound. Lacking the strange instrumentation of the former, it is a soft conclusion to an otherwise vivacious album.
But the real show stealer is the surprisingly tame “We Drift Like Worried Fire." To be fair, the word ‘tame’ should be taken lightly here, as it merely denotes that it has a much more traditional sound than “Mladic.” The song has a deliberate pace, rarely getting sidetracked by little flourishes or extended asides. In a sense it is more like Yanqui U.X.O
, as it places heavy emphasis on the build/climax dichotomy. However, it manages to be one of the most engrossing things the band has ever written. About 11 minutes in the tone shifts to something much more ominous and foreboding. Percussion becomes more prevalent, and the song veers into a rapid tempo that is surprisingly contained. It isn’t all out hell, always showing restraint, which makes it all the more impressive. Much like “Mladic,” the final moments are stunning, as the entire album comes to head with a somewhat abrupt conclusion.
It is an understatement to proclaim 'Allelujah! Don't Bend! Ascend!
as one of the biggest releases of the year, because as with most Godspeed You! Black Emperor records, it will still be relevant into the next decade and beyond. Rarely does the music community get so fervently excited over a new record, especially by a band that had long been thrown to the wayside, but that is simply the magic of Godspeed. Tune in and enjoy, for 'Allelujah! Don't Bend! Ascend!
is a truly unforgettable experience.