God Speed You! Black Emperor: Allelujah! Don't Bend, Ascend!
- It was announced less than three months ago that Godspeed You! Black Emprorer would visit our shores for the first time, playing the illustrious All Tomorrow's Parties Festival. Now, less than three weeks ago it was further announced that the group were to release their first new record in years, appropriately titled Allejuah! Don't Bend, Ascend. The record is a hands down return to form and could quite easily be considered the group's best work.
In typical Godspeed fashion, the album is made up of four lengthy tracks that slap you in the face repeatedly 'til you're barely sensible of it, wavering in and out of consciousness by the end of the album's fifty-five odd minutes. It starts off with the twenty minute journey Mladic which uses basic, almost militaristic vocal loops before a celtic violin comes in, with guitar volume swells and bending loops that resemble a strung out post-addict's mind in the day to day world. That's all within the first five minutes. It then continues to transform using elements from prog-rock, punk, Eastern European string arrangements, psych and has a distinctly classical sensibility, feeling almost symphonic, working - as it does - in movements brought together under a common banner. The rest of the album is also structured, more or less in this manner and indeed it is a common feature in a lot of Godspeed's songwriting.
Following on, shortest track on the record Their Helicopters' Sing is more of a concentrated soundscape than a constructed melody and almost sounds like a warped VHS playing Russian March Music in slow motion. It gives off immense gravitas while reminding you that you're still completely alone in the world. We then get another twenty minute dose in the form of We Drift Like Worried Fire, which is more of the band in their post-rock mode, creating a sea of sporadic tremolo picked guitar playing, zipping through your headphones against a classical backdrop. While Fire is a good track, it sounds too close to the traditional post-rock world, but still, with its consumate artistry, it lets the likes of protégé group Explosions in the Sky know who's boss.
The fourth and final track Strung Like Lights At Thee Printemps Erable proves to be the most interesting on the record and is simply, bloody terrifying. Over eight minutes it uses ambient electronics similar to the sound of strung metal stitched to a patchy noise that is like something which crawled out of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre before descending into noise-art territory. It has a real military stock footage feel to it that compliments the band's past and present imagery. It is the kind of track that keeps you up at night, very appropriate for halloween.
Allelujah! Don't Bend! Ascend! is, to my ears, album of the year material and is both accessible (bearing in mind that this is God Speed You Black Emperor!) and artistically challenging in equally strong measures. New fans will be blown away and old fans will happily place this on the shelf next to F# A# (Infinity), there to bask in righteous glory. Bow down in the presence of the Black Emperor.
- Brad Armstrong.