As a longtime fan of mind-altering music, there are few words to describe just how I felt when, a couple weeks back, I found out that Godspeed You! Black Emperor were releasing their first album since 2002's minimalist-yet-powerful 'Yanqui U.X.O.' Though admittedly somewhat skeptical they'd be able to rekindle the magic from a decade ago, after finally hearing 'Allelujah! Don't Bend! Ascend!'--recorded by the four core members only this time around--there are even fewer words, if any, to describe the emotions I felt while listening. But I'll do my best.
After the quiet beauty of their last album, nothing could have prepared me for the squalling guitars that assaulted my ears during the 20-minute opener, "Mladic," a song the band had occasionally played live, in slightly different form, before their 7-year hiatus. Following a 5-minute buildup of Middle-Eastern drones, an explosion of sound suddenly erupted from my headphones, tickling some musical funnybone in my brain, and sending me off on a euphoric innerspace journey that, hours later, I'm still feeling the effects from. The combination of grinding guitars, strings, and drums being pummeled into splinters was extremely cathartic, especially after my increasing anticipation during the slow buildup, and I was slightly worried that the album may have already peaked.
But after more tripped-out droning on the short (relatively speaking), bagpipe-laden, almost funereal "Their Helicopters' Sing," the epic "We Drifted Like Worried Fire" kicks it back into overdrive with an intense, just-plain gorgeous post-rock symphony that, imo, is quite possibly the high point of Godspeed's already remarkable career. Its walls of guitars and strings over an uptempo marching band drumbeat is very haunting and ominous, yet it's absolutely joyous at the same time, and--much like their musical forbears Swans' latest--induces some rather unique emotions in me, emotions that I'll only ever feel by playing this song. That's about the highest praise in my book when it comes to music, of any genre.
Another shorter droning dirge, "Strung Like Lights at Thee Printemps Erable," closes the album on a freaky--almost David Lynchian--note, capping off 53-minutes of pure sonic bliss. It's a little early to say where 'Allelujah!...' stands among the rest of GY!BE's repertoire, but I can definitively state that it's one of the most ambitious albums--and most immersive listening experiences--of the past few years, and should cement their status as one of the most unique, most mindblowing bands of the 21st century.
Here's hoping we won't have to wait yet another ten years for their next album. Good thing this one should keep us all more than occupied for a very long time to come.
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