In many ways the musical themes of Godspeed You! Black Emperor have very commonly revolved around chaos. If their hauntingly dissonant guitar sustains don’t instill a confused and jumbled feeling within your soul and sinuses, then this idea is brought to a more comprehensive point with the monologues they choose to lead their songs. For instance, the one on their 1997 album F#A# ? (yeah, that’s what it’s titled), is a narration from an unfinished film written by GY!BE lead man Efrim Menuck. The scene described begins with a chilly phrase that sets the post apocalyptic—or perhaps post battle—scene, “The car’s on fire and there’s no driver at the wheel; and the sewers are all muddled with a thousand lonely suicides; and a dark wind blows”.
Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend! is the first studio album GY!BE has put out in a decade. It doesn’t express chaos through monologues, though there are some found recordings blended between the major movements. The theme of disorder is still rather present, however. The first track of the album is entitled “Mladic”, which is a reference to Ratko Mladic the former, genocidal Serbian military leader. This twenty-minute piece begins the album in a familiar way by prefacing the music with a distorted voice sounding as though it were taken from an emergency phone call. The words, “with his arms outstretched,” echo as a gipsy violin drags the listener down into an overpowering swell of distortion and leviathan songs of eerily peaceful guitar strikes. This grows into an ebb and flow of instrumental noise before working it’s way into the sounds of a kind of third world parade. The second work of the album is much shorter than the typical GY!BE piece. “Their Helicopters’ Sing” begins with silence and a phonograph crackle, which are both an interestingly new feature found at the beginning of each of the four tracks on the album. The use of the antiquated quiet firmly detaches each movement from the other. Lasting six and a half minutes, “Their Helicopters’ Sing” chugs along with strict, rhythmic strings and then vanishes into the third movement, “We Drift Like Worried Fire”.
Percussion is key in this album. Musically, GY!BE have a very well collaborated style that shines through in everything from the production to the orchestral and ambient layering to the key signatures, if you can call them that. Menacing snare drums march out an intimidating roll at the end of “We Drift Like Worried Fire” after the main theme swivels and spins like a nauseated carnival patron, then progresses into a powerfully triumphant and determined wall of soprano guitar and peddled strings that are a signature of this seasoned group of musicians. The third and first pieces of the album combat for dominance and seem to argue, together, a clear symbol pointing towards turmoil in Eastern Europe.
GY!BE is subtly known for their strong opinions on societal degradation (back to the bedlam). They were even once believed to be a terrorist group by Missouri police. The incident acted as a vehicle in which the band could comment on the racial fallacy of Middle America. The idea of disarray is not so focused that it is the only take-away from this album however; many ideas are planted and emotions stirred through the stunning flood of sound created by these artists. The fourth and final track, “Strung Like Lights at Three Printemps Erable”, closes out the listeners’ journey with a suspiciously soothing drone that crescendos into a cacophony of sound waves reminiscent of the feeling of a wind tunnel or the surface of a pond during a hail shower. Just as a storm blows over, the album comes and goes with a fury and a stillness all its own. A well accepted and pleasant surprise for most long-time fans, Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend! readily offers a truly meaningful glimpse into oneself that Godspeed You! Black Emperor is known to encourage in their fans.