For every great band that is welcoming and open with how they develop their creativity, there’s a band like Montreal’s Godspeed You! Black Emperor.” Ok maybe not every band, but over the course of twenty-two years, this orchestral apocalyptic ensemble have managed to make some of the most thought provoking music I’ve ever had the pleasure of listening to. Today we add another album to the “Albums of my Life” series with their groundbreaking, transcendent debut “F♯ A♯ ∞.” Enjoy
Now this isn’t your typical album, and thus, will play out differently from most of my other album pieces. The record itself, best suited for listening as you read Cormac’s superb “The Road,” opens with murmurings and reverb, and out of nowhere a deep, old voice creeps over our ears. His words, omens and reminders of what a desolate life is like, fill the listener with gloom and desperation. The violins start much in the way a fire that will warm the stranded residents of a world left behind.
This record never gets full speed like other records do, but rather it envelopes you in a post ash world where hope is maligned and forgotten, where hope is something that gets you one step closer to realizing not only that time has passed you by, but that death is actually knocking at your door, willing and ready to save you from whatever you have found yourself in. Now these songs are long, but if you’re reading this and are familiar with the band, you already know this band brings it when it comes to song lengths.
The three most prominent and early members of the band, Menuck, Moya and Pezzente, all thrive at their instruments, but that’s where the visibility of the group ends in blown up expectations. Seeing GY!BE live, you never get a sense of any of them. They as a collective have worked hard for that mysterious quality, and for the type of music they deliver, it works perfectly. Much like Tool, the members of the band focus on the music and leave the bullshit at the door. This helps to build a stronger narrative for the art being presented. Not every band could work under these circumstances, but they do.
The big moment of the record for me though, is track two, “East Hastings.” At a easy going seventeen minutes and some change, the track escapes first through anger filled yells and bagpipes flailing in the wind. More sounds obscure the atmosphere, much in the way darkness hides the path of least resistance. It’s here that the guitar becomes center stage, like the aftermath of a giant fight in which both combatants attempt to keep going. As a slow motion struggle ensues, the clouds black and fierce, cascade over the valley of lost promises and shattered ideals. The fighting pit, as it’s known, isn’t a pit at all, but the world we now know.
As Godspeed, the musicians are able to create tension in the most minimal of ways. A guitar part here, a wind chime off in the distance there, slow building gestations filling up the malevolent sky. It’s not until the seven minute mark when the song comes full spectrum and an accompaniment of various instruments saunter onto the landscape of dread. These next few minutes are the best, and most apocalyptic the band has to offer.
A faint, dainty voice scrambles over, telling us a story of how the house we all share fell apart, leaving us with nothing but dirt and the clothes on our backs. As the demonic orchestra rolls on, the song builds tempo like the Gestapo breaking down walls and doors to get what they want. The terror is alive as you run and run into the blindness of the world, and you wonder if you’ll ever expect the tyranny of persecution of the evil ones. Finally, everything stops, and for a moment, serenity fills you, even though you know it’s momentary at best.
The last song begins, and with it, a bright glow from the forest you have ventured out of begins to miraculously glow in the night sky. Bad news you tell the others, and before long, the sound of footsteps and hushed urgency fill the surroundings. If you just escape this last terror you can be free, and everything will have worked itself out.
By minute ten the band is full steam ahead, with all cylinders rolling, until finally a drum crash awakens you to a world mostly at peace, and you realize it’s all been a dream. The murmurings of voices you hear is just the voice of the music you’ve been besieged by for the last fifty minutes or so. You haven’t found the end of the world, but rather, the closing track of the album,”Providence.” it’s a song that brings you through the dumpster fire of existence, while showing the light at the end of the tunnel. The light isn’t death, but rather the ability to accept the good with the bad, the darkness with the light, and the knowledge that even a band as somber in moments as Godspeed You! Black Emperor is capable of truly beautiful, awe inspiring music. Thanks for reading, hope you enjoyed.
Landon Murray is a New Orleans native, who thrives on painting the world he interprets through the useful forms of all types of art he feels connected to. He's seen over 1000 bands, and had loved mostly every minute of it. He has an amazing 10 year old dog, and is loving life.
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