Godspeed You! Black Emperor
Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!
Reviewed by Joe Tingle
When Godspeed You! Black Emperor release a new album, the entire world of experimental music turns over in awe to listen. When that album is released off of a seven year hiatus, as Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend! has been, the world still pays attention, only now the pressure is on. A!DB!A! is Godspeed’s fourth studio album , and their last before the hiatus, Yanqui U.X.O., received critically mixed reception. The question arises: are Godspeed still the masters of ambient post-something music they were in the late 90s? Or does this new record signal that the Montreal ensemble were perhaps best left in retirement?
A!DB!A! begins with the twenty minute long “Mladic”, a heavy song by Godspeed standards which begins with a subtle yet constant drone, before culminating into chugging Middle Eastern overtures and eventually descending into what seems like African street rhythms. It is not the best or most challenging Godspeed song, but it is effective at establishing that characteristic Godspeed atmosphere; where the dark, mysterious corners of the world are slowly injected into the ears of the listener. That atmosphere is perpetuated on the next track, “Their Helicopters Sing”, as detuned bagpipes and stringed instruments wail over a gurgling, shadowy undertone.
Structurally, A!DB!A! features two long, explorative and often heavy works which are followed by shorter downers. Of the two longer works, I like the second, “We Drift Like Worried Fire”, best. Whereas the first two tracks are typical Godspeed offerings, “Worried Fire” clearly sticks out in the catalog as being perhaps the heaviest and most intricately layered of all Godspeed songs. Here, Godspeed’s normal apocalypse-drone gives way to soundscaping guitars and dancing strings, which synchronize in an incredible orchestral build-up. For its first half, Godspeed channel more of Sigur Ros’ utopian strains than they do their own funereal sounds, and the results speak for themselves. The darkness returns afterwards via an electric, villainous march that certainly matches the most memorable moments in the Godspeed catalog, before finally veering off into Phillip Glass territory.
In what seems like an afterthought, “Strung Like Lights At Thee Printemps Erable” provides the final downer of the album. The magic of “Worried Fire” turns away, the good-old Godspeed drone returns, and the bizarre sets in. And then, the album is finished.
Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend! is thus a bit of a mixed bag. There are moments that sound like Godspeed-by-numbers, emphasized by the first half. Then, there are moments of sheer genius and renewed originality, such as the album’s third track. While Godspeed-by-numbers certainly isn’t a terrible thing, its contrast with the ingenuity offered later is just too extreme. While “We Drift Like Worried Fire” may be the best song in the Godspeed catalog, it sounds like it should be on a different album. The result is that A!DB!A! is a good album that simply seems to lack artistic and conceptual direction. Definitely more-than-listenable, Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend! will give fans of ambient post-rock something new to chew on for a long time.