Music Reviews
Allelujah! Don't Bend! Ascend

Godspeed You! Black Emporer Allelujah! Don't Bend! Ascend

(Constellation) Rating - 8/10

This is without doubt one of my most anticipated releases of the year, if only to find out where they would place the exclamation point this time.  The band’s last album, Yanqui U.X.O made our list of albums of the decade and summarizing it I said this:

            “Nowhere in the Godspeed corpus can you find music of such horror and tension”

That was true until now.  Previous outings had moments of gripping intensity, but they were punctuated with passages of beauty and grace.  Yanqui seemed to indicate a worldview that had been tweaked in the direction of horror and righteous indignation, and the new record suggests that shift may have been permanent.  By choosing as their first subject Ratko Mladic, the “butcher of Bosnia”, the man responsible for the worst war crime on European soil since the end of World War II, they pretty much guarantee a harrowing journey and Mladic does not disappoint.  It sounds as if the band is trying to put us right inside the massacre at Srebrenica that killed 8,000 Bosniaks, as the terrors of the earth are unleashed over 20 grueling minutes.  It’s hard to call it enjoyable listening, but its intensity cannot be denied.  It begins with gypsy violins that lead into the sound of an approaching army, with perhaps shells raining down or women and children crying.  It then builds to a cataclysmic conclusion that will certainly test the limits of your vinyl rig if that’s your medium of choice (it is mine).  Yet it ends with something resembling hope as people in the streets pick up pots and pans to bang on and dance to. 

The problem, if there is a problem, I’m not so sure, is that the bleakness and horror that was so skillfully balanced on a knife’s edge on Yanqui, here becomes almost overwhelming.  It’s like the insane screaming metal that’s so popular among the little ones these days.  Nobody is ever really that angry; even serial killers have moments of repose.  So the whole genre tends towards the cartoonish, like the professional wrestling of music.  That’s not what Godspeed is doing, but I wonder if the impact of the music has been dulled by its relentless intensity.  I certainly don’t feel quite as moved by it as I am by their previous efforts, but that just may be my inability to process so much horror at one time.  Even the soft parts of the softloudsoft paradigm are filled with absolute dread, as in opening section of the other extended piece, We Drift Like Worried Fire..  A two note chromatic riff, like the piano motif in Ligeti’s Mucia Ricercata (featured in the film Eyes Wide Shut) becomes the foundation of another cataclysmic display.  Fortunately, this one is punctuated by some friendly harmony in the second section, but again the noise, particularly the blaring guitars, become so oppressive that the listener is constantly kept on the edge of turning away.  The riff then returns to the fore and becomes more ominous, and once the marching drums kick in, you’re back to feeling the enemy armies advancing, ready to stick a bayonet right in your belly.

It’s all powerful stuff and it can only be GY!BE.  I think it will satisfy most fans of the band and win few new ones because of its uncompromising stance.  I have my issues with it but I can’t deny the skill with which they maintain tension and horror.  Hey, it’s great Halloween music!  Put it on loud and maybe the kids will skip your house this year so you can stay on the couch and eat the candy yourself