Friday, 5 October 2012

Godspeed You! Black Emperor - Allelujah! Don't Bend! Ascend!


Music Review Database has a connection with Godspeed You! Black Emperor. Two months ago "F#A#∞" was featured as our Classic Album of The Month. Little did we know Godspeed You! Black Emperor or GY!BE for short, were sitting on their fourth studio album "Allelujah! Don't Bend! Ascend!" It very well happens to be their first album in 10 years. GY!BE have become somewhat of post-rock cult icons since the turn of the 21st century. History cannot be re-written and GY!BE will always be known as Canada's dark horse in underground music. F#A#∞ is a special album, as is "Lift Your Skinny Fists LikeAntennas to Heaven". Generally speaking, their third album "YanquiU.X.O." was less successful and least favoured by critics. 2012 could very well bring disaster to planet Earth like the mad theorists say. If the world does turn to shit come December, I want to be listening to Godspeed You! Black Emperor. Two months ago, Jordan completed his F#A#∞ review by saying, "The darkened skies ever expanding beyond the visible horizon outside - the connectivity I feel with this record, will remain as strong and indecipherable as it was on first listen." "Allelujah! Don't Bend! Ascend!" has a lot to live up to, I'm here to give the verdict on GY!BE's fourth studio album. Strap yourselves in.

The first of four tracks is entitled "Mladic". GY!BE are heavily influenced by politics, Allelujah! Don't Bend! Ascend! is no different. If anything, GY!BE have become even more political in their meanings than ever before. This track references the Bosnian Serb Ratko Mladić, an accused war criminal. It is well known to the Canadian's fan base that Mladic has been performed live under the title "Albanian" since circa 2003. There are many differences between the live version and the renamed studio version. The obvious being the live versions authentic feel and dramatic ecliptic moments. Imagine this in a dark lit room with minimal lighting and GY!BE playing. Live recordings always sound deeper, authentic and different but above all GY!BE take live recordings to the next level. 

Mladic opens with a vocal sample which loops and fades out over the Middle East like instrumentation. The stringed instruments come to a close as the heavy drone electric guitar fades in. Stringed instruments return several seconds later with plucking sounds that have reverberation heavily applied. The track builds for another minute then takes its first landslide segment crossover at four minutes in. The instrumentation becomes harsh, the guitars quieter but far more textures appear, the soundscapes crop up and so do the bowed instruments yet again. Labelling Mladic an epic is an understatement because of the following 14 minutes. The drumming enters in a repetitive banging rhythm. The guitars begin to layer and the bass guitar comes into action. The initial harsh noise fades out and the track is left with a skeleton of drone music. Think Spacemen 3 but without the vocal sections. The track then opens up because the tempo is increased and the drumming begins to quicken. There’s an excessive focus on the electric guitars here while the bass and percussion lose ground. I've always said listening to GY!BE is an experience and 10 years on from their last studio recording, my opinion remain the same. You have to admire the crescendos and magnificent build up's. This kind of material is hard to come by in modern rock music and GY!BE are banging it out in 2 to three minute pieces. Mladic is split up into sections like almost every GY!BE track in existence. The final six minutes are as loud and drone as they have ever been. The left sided guitar is other-worldly and the right sided guitar makes Mogwai's latest album sound amateurish, it really does. The production quality is amazing and the essence of GY!BE comes through once more with imagery. Three minutes of speedy percussion and two chorded bass guitar ends the first of four dramatic tracks.

Drone music is a genre that stretches the depths of music. Artists labelled as drone are typically North American and have a music theory background. First listens to "Their Helicopter's Sing" will reveal a plain drone track. It isn’t this in the slightest. What we really have is six minutes of spectacular strings and guitars. The track begins with an ambient introduction, turning loud and aggressive in a matter of minutes. Listening to this track is a bit like watching a fire spread. You know it's there and you know it's a threat, but you never know it's a life-threating danger till it lights up the entire house. GY!BE light up the house and blow it up with their amps. Simple to some, spectacular to others; drone music.

Criticisms may be directed at GY!BE's lack of originality in terms of song-writing, in an instrumental form of course. I say this because the following track "We Drift Like Worried Fire", also happens to be a reamed version of an old recording. This time it's the well-known "Gamelan", another track about a decade old. Notice the keyword I just used, old. Allelujah! Don't Bend! Ascend! is a new GY!BE album, but the majority of its content is old. Granted, it hasn't been released on record and it hasn't been recorded for the studio, but they have had years to do this, why now? Don’t get me wrong I think these tracks are stunning, but it's the principle of 'new music' that takes away the essence of this studio album.

We Drift Like Worried Fire opens with a chaotic and atmospheric string section. Like most GY!BE tracks, it builds up over time. The string riff that follows has the delay effect put to the test. It's not the loudest string riff in the world, but it's effective at the volume it's at. On the left side a high pitched electric guitar moans, on the right there's another guitar moaning, but with slightly less power. Three minutes in and the apocalyptic music comes to a standstill. The next section begins with guitars playing that initial string riff. Light percussion then follows with a spontaneous thumping drum rhythm. A variety of instruments appear out of the dark in typical GY!BE fashion. Right sided reverberated electric guitar trickles through the now fast moving drum rhythm. This section is utterly brilliant and lasts for several minutes. Music can be so emotional and this short moment in We Drift Like Worried Fire happens to be one of the most emotion provoking pieces of music I’ve heard for a very long time. Post-rock is a genre that speaks for itself. Words (vocals) cannot describe the true feelings of emotion one can share with a track such as this. There’s this dazzling moment about 10 minutes in where the initial string riff becomes a heavily distorted cry on guitar. It's intellectually dynamic and well placed in the track. I see this track as the tale of two stories. We have the passionate and tearful piece of music in part one, then we have the horror-esque build-up in part two. Like all stories, we have a love and a hate. This is where GY!BE show their true colours in connecting the listener in a way only a handful of artists can. This part two builds-up for five minutes before blasting off into the final segment. We Drift Like Worried Fire becomes a fast paced indie rock-esque track. The guitar melodies are truly superb. Imagine this moment as the moment in the story where everything turns out fine. The good conquers the evil and the hero defeats the villain. the public are celebrating and this is their emotion. That little two minute section is the closest GY!BE have ever come towards being somewhat of a 'indie rock' artist. Abrasive guitars close off this wonderful track in  a rocknroll finale of strings, loud percussion and several layers of guitar.

"Strung Like LightsAt Thee Printemps Erable" is the second drone track on GY!BE's fourth studio album. It acts as the goodbye piece of music for Allelujah! Don't Bend! Ascend! Like with Their Helicopter's Sing, this track builds on a quiet ambient piece. Distorted guitars come together to create a dirty and heavy facade of noise. If you're not a fan of ambient or drone music, then this track isn't your thing. The mix between drone and post-rock has worked for artists like Swans, GY!BE are no different. This fits with GY!BE's post-apocalyptic style. The drone tracks don't tell stories quite like the 20 minute pieces, but they do their bit to sustain the album. It's grounded not by one drone piece, but by two very solid noise compositions.

Allelujah! Don't Bend! Ascend! is an album I never expected to be hearing. GY!BE have kept quit on whether or not they had been recording since their comeback in 2010. This album is nothing like F#A#∞, Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven or Yanqui U.X.O. It has the same compositional features, but it's not the same. Two of these tracks are actually quite old and I don't have a problem with this, but some people do. I can understand why some would disregard this album as nothing but a studio recording session with some drone experimentation... They would be wrong in thinking this is a bad album, because it's most certainly a solid album of evocative music. It's emotional, passionate and above all it’s gripping.
~Eddie

8.9

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