Review / Godspeed You! Black Emperor – G_d’s Pee AT STATE’S END!

Anarchy in music, as a political and philosophical idea, can take many different forms. There’s the clattering yelps and roars of anarcho-punk and crust, the itinerant lo-fi folk of acts like Mischief Brew, or the dissonant riffage of various anti-fascist and anarcho-primitivist black metal bands. But that isn’t the whole story; anarchist music is not just about a raw delivery and riotous, sloganeering lyrics.

Since forming in the mid-90’s, Canada’s Godspeed You! Black Emperor have been making sophisticated political music which relies heavily on slow burning melodies and intricate crescendos, rather than short-sharp blasts of agit-prop. Considered one of the leading lights in the post-rock movement (the band would still consider themselves more a punk or protest music act), Godspeed released a trio of iconic albums between 1997 and 2002, before going on hiatus to pursue various side-projects, and eventually reforming in 2010. 

The group’s approach to political music is closer to that of a multi-media collective than a band. Whether it’s the collage of samples used on record, the carefully put together album artwork (owning a Godspeed album is essential to getting the full affect) or the innovative use of film projection during their live shows, everything the band do in the representation of their music is curated to amplify their critique of contemporary western capitalism.

G_d’s Pee AT STATE’S END! Is the band’s 4th effort since coming back together and it continues to explore the vast sonic palette they’ve created. Since their reformation their sound has taken on a more considered, precise tone that their earlier, noisier albums. That’s not to say they’ve lost any of their power, and this record sits comfortably alongside Luciferian Towers (2017) and Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress (2015) as a later day masterpiece.

You can probably guess from the title that the album finds the band exploring the notion of the collapse of the capitalist power structure, and because of this there is something of a celebratory air to it. The first 20 minute piece (consisting of 4 movements starting with ‘Military Alphabet’) is a sort of post-rock ‘ode to joy’, starting with discordant noise that resembles an orchestra warming up, before transforming into a riff-led, militaristic vibe which evokes both dread and inspiration in equal measure. It eventually breaks into a euphoric crescendo before clattering to an end with an enigmatic field recording of what sounds like bird song with cannon fire in the background.

The much shorter ‘Fire at Static Valley’ takes on a much more ominous tone, with a repeating guitar melody forming the backbone of the track while drums and synth build behind with ever increasing tension. The second long-form piece (3 movements starting with ‘GOVERNMENT CAME’) begins with an eerie sample of short-wave radio static before transforming into a melancholic, shoegaze inspired jam. It then about-faces again as a motorik beat emerges from the sadness and it becomes a joyous slice of krautrock.

These musical contradictions are not an accident, rather they are a sonic representation of the conflict that is happening in the world around us, and perhaps also the fatigue that the constant battle can cause in us. The final track on the album very much hammers home the band’s view on the matter with it’s no nonsense title of ‘OUR SIDE HAS TO WIN (for D.H.)’. It’s as stirring a piece of music as you’ll hear anywhere, and you feel it’s the band reaching out to you and putting a reassuring hand on your shoulder in solidarity for the struggle.

This album is a symphony for our time. While the band had to shout about injustice during the apathetic, neo-conservative hegemony of the late 90’s, the highly partisan 20’s offer prime conditions for Godspeed to guide us through the noise.

G_d’s Pee AT STATE’S END! is out now via Constellation Records and can be ordered here.

Words: Dan Cadwallader

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