Some fans were introduced to Godspeed You! Black Emperor in 1998 upon hearing “East Hastings” off of their debut album F#A#∞, featured on the soundtrack to the instant cult-horror classic 28 Days Later. Others were dutifully hooked with their incredible 2000 double-LP Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven. Their third full-length, Yanqui U.X.O., was dismissed as a mediocre and formulaic follow-up to their back catalog. Truth be told, it’s not an awful record and the harsh criticism may have been more a product of “How do you keep someone down on the post-rock farm after they’ve heard Lift Your Skinny Fists.” Godspeed did continue to tour after the release of Yanqui, but there were no future releases on the horizon. The announcement of a new record after a decade of studio silence, ‘Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!, came as a total surprise a few weeks ago.
The opening track, “Mladic,” is the first of two 20-minute tracks on ‘Allelujah that have been a part of their live performances since 2003. It begins with a sampled vocal loop, “With his arms outstretched!” immediately drawing the listener in (unlike some of GYBE’s earlier samples which sounded discrepant at times). “Mladic” calls Super Furry Animals Olde Welsh song titling to mind and begins like the assembly of an army, slowly building in classic GY!BE fashion to a charging siege against a medieval castle. Trebujets launch fireballs at the nine-minute mark leaving a valkyrie in their wake. The castle crumbles a few minutes later, but out of the sonic rubble comes a vengeful juggernaut swinging a symphonic mace. The track ends with metallic percussion as though Stomp were unleashed in a commercial kitchen. It just works. And it will bring a smile to all those post-rock/metal fans.
The two shorter tracks on the album (read: only six plus minutes long) “Their Helicopters’ Sing” and “Strung Like Lights at Thee Printemps Erable” come as a separate 7-inch accompanying the LP. “Their Helicopters’ Sing” has as much brooding gloom as Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. The title’s confusing plural possessive is out of mind as soon as the surging drone is sliced by bagpipe blares recalling David Watson’s contribution to Glacial’s On Jones Beach earlier this year.
If any track exemplifies ascension it’s “We Drift Like Worried Fire” which is arguably Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s best work to date. Unlike some instrumentals, “We Drift…” isn’t mere background music; it’s a whole other world for a listener to attentively immerse oneself in, a track that climbs, plateaus, climbs, rests and then sprints. A plucked titter of four notes over feedback is methodically reinforced by filtered Walkmen-esque guitars, warm strings and a thumping bass drum for half the song. At the midway point the listener is awarded an anti-solo as a breather before GY!BE depart on a steep hike on the darker side of the same peak. Skittish cymbals give way to a rattling snare and menacing string bass before pounding drums and a minor to major chord switch allow the song to rise like a rocket.
“…Printemps Erable” is likely a reaction of sorts to the ongoing student protests in Quebec (GY!BE hail from Quebec after all) which began eight months ago regarding the proposed increase in university tuition; it has been referred to as “The largest act of civil disobedience in Canadian History,” though the track itself hardly feels reactionary. Instead it seems to work in tandem with the album cover. It plays like a hazy, krautrocky portrait of a fallout shelter with specters of scud missiles soaring overhead. The greedy listener may wish for a third gargantuan closer, but it might be overkill for an LP.
Where other post-rockers may find themselves meandering during longer tracks, the well-seasoned Godspeed You! Black Emperor present two cohesive epics and two contemplative segues. For a band that had laurels to rest on, ‘Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend! acts as a down comforter. If GY!BE never releases another record they have nothing to apologize for, but if they choose to continue to record and release, godspeed and God bless.
Godspeed You! Black Emperor - ‘Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend! tracklist:
- “Their Helicopters’ Sing”
- “We Drift Like Worried Fire”
- “Strung Like Lights at Thee Printemps Erable”