'Allelujah! Don't Bend! Ascend! - Godspeed You! Black Emperor - LICK MY DECALS OFF, BABY! #73

It came out a few weeks ago. It's shite.” -Steven

So it seems Godspeed have reappeared just as mysteriously as they disappeared almost ten years ago. Sure, they’ve been reformed and touring for the last two years, but a new album was the last thing I expected, and especially one whose release was so low key it took me a few weeks to even realize it was out (nah, I’m kidding, it’s me we’re talking about here: if there were banners flying from my house to promote the album I still would have missed it) [it wasn’t low key – Ed.]. Why did they choose now to release their newest body of work? I wanted to believe it was political: GY!BE have always been strongly opinionated in their critique of US Government and authority figures in their music, album artwork and statements. Now, in the midst of possibly one of the most moronic and conniving election campaigns we’ve seen for many a year, Godspeed might have found their calling again, to stand up against the madness and proclaim their voice of reason as they had before, a call to anarchism and political dissidence. However, if there is any message from this music, it’s certainly not political. Aside from the beginning of the album, gone appear to be the days when sinister vocals of impending rebellion lay draped over the band’s cataclysmic and ferocious instrumentals. I miss it somewhat, but on listening to ‘Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend! I conclude that this component of the music is not sorely lacking. There’s enough discontent, anger and nonconformity in the music to start a mini-uprising.

Mladic is a long-awaited studio recording and renaming of the track Albanian, played live since before their break up in 2003 but never given an official release until now. I happen to possess such a recording, and let me assure you the official release was worth the wait. It is absolutely CLASSIC Godspeed material; their massively protracted Pixies-esque diminuendos and crescendos, building up from a mere whisper to a heavy distortion epic, pounding drums and a guitar riff that must be Jimmy Page’s lovechild keeping the track as high octane as NASCAR fuel injectors before the inevitable comedown; oscillating between feedback laden soundscapes and frantic reprises of the riff, as if to highlight the desperation of something: I’m not quite sure what though.  It’s as strong an introduction to a new album that I could have hoped for, and I’m discounting the fact that the composition is around ten years old. It makes me realize that although their time in the spotlight has passed, Godspeed still have something to say. (Note also the name change: is this a tribute to war criminal Rakto Mladic? A condemnation? Are the furious, hellish shrieks of guitar a musical representation of the atrocities he administered in Srebrenica, the pounding drums his marching soldiers inflicting horror upon horror on innocent Bosniaks? I guess that one’s up to you, but the name of the song alone, despite there being no lyrics, shows that there are still political issues Godspeed want to raise, no matter how camouflaged)

Godspeed inflicting post-rock.
Much to my chagrin, however, the following track is a total change of pace, not just for the album but for Godspeed in general. Their Helicopters Sing is an exercise in drone, but with uncharacteristic effusiveness. There’s simply too much going on; what starts off promisingly quickly transitions into an incoherent jumble of instrumentation, all undulating and shimmering on top of each other in a fine mess. It’s almost like someone was told to start off sustaining a note on his instrument, then each musician was told to come in one by one on their respective instruments (and what a choice of instruments! I’m pretty sure I hear a hurdy gurdy in there) and just keep that going for a few minutes. It’s sadly muddled and uninteresting. The following track is another 20-minute old composition; formerly known as Gamelan, which fortunately does lift the record back up again after the small pitfall of the previous track. It’s far from the powerhouse that was Mladic though: a more subtle track for the most part, building on a slower tempo initially, it teases us with a demure staccato string riff before this riff is translated to the guitars and slowly built up to that crescendo we’re all dying to hear. However, it’s a disappointingly bland riff, a little simplistic, and not one that incites a particular emotion: it actually sounds a little comical, yet is inserted into a track which builds around the riff and does its best to make it sound dramatic, which it only has limited success in doing. However, once this riff is discarded about halfway through, things start to get more interesting, with the track taking on an ominous minimalism far removed from the brash and false triumphalism of the previous ten minutes. After a few moments out of this, Motorik drums appear from nowhere and the track begins working its way towards a rapturous and uplifting conclusion. Concluding the album is another short drone-like track, Strung Like Lights at Thee Printemps Erable. Unlike Their Helicopters Sing, this actually works, stripping much of the clutter away and refining what’s there, ending the album on an eerily subdued note, as if to say it’s not the last we’ll hear of the band. Despite this, it makes the album frustratingly inconsistent for me: two long powerhouses of tracks and two short minimalist experiments leave the album with no real flow. Just when I’m getting into one style I get interrupted by the other. It’s an annoying layout and initially irritated me so much that it made me overlook the fact that there is some really great music in here.

So ‘Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend! certainly is not without its flaws, but it makes for a welcome return for a band who’ve still got plenty left in them. I don’t think it is, as Steven so eloquently put it, “shite.” The only thing that concerns me is the relative weakness and brevity of the newer pieces. These experiments are, to recontextualize Samuel Beckett’s comments about his own Film, “an interesting failure.” Godspeed, when it comes to gargantuan post-rock workouts, still have no equals. They mightn’t have anything particularly new to bring to the table, but what they offer is still superb. If they can take inspiration from these older pieces and inspired performances of them on this album and channel that into some fresh compositions of the same manner, I welcome their return with open arms. I can take or leave the drone: others have done it much better, but nobody does post rock better than Godspeed, not in the past and not now.

Words – Adam.

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