Review: Godspeed You! Black Emperor - Allelujah! Don't Bend! Ascend! [Album]

Review: Godspeed You! Black Emperor - Allelujah! Don't Bend! Ascend! [Album]

Constellation Records // A magnificent aural journey across a myriad of instruments, genres and emotions

Review   2205 Views
Last Edited by: Chris MUG5 Maguire October 28th, 2012.

Godspeed You! Black Emperor are an enigma. Shrouded in secrecy, the band have refused interviews, photoshoots and operate with a non-hierarchical, 'no leaders' style member set-up. Their affiliation with anarchist and anti-capitalist movements has only deepened the mystery, while their decision to eschew major record labels has guaranteed their releases are never anything other than thrilling.

Allelujah! Don't Bend! Ascend! is no exception. After their decade long hiatus and following several side-projects, Godspeed You! Black Emperor reformed to much fanfare. Their tour took them around the globe, but little attention was paid to the vinyls sat on the merchandise tables of these shows. Those vinyls were Allelujah! Don't Bend! Ascend!, and despite little attention being drawn to a new album from a recently reformed cult band, it conjures the same intense emotional impact of all previous releases.

The album is broken up into four tracks, although like all Godspeed You! Black Emperor albums before, Allelujah! Don't Bend! Ascend! is best appreciated as a whole. Two of the tracks are relatively short (around six minutes) while the other two are magnificent twenty minute aural journeys across a myriad of instruments, genres and emotions.

For being the first album the Montreal 9-piece have released in a decade, Allelujah! Don't Bend! Ascend! is tightly woven with the usual plethora of instruments on show. The finest track has to be closing number "Strung Like Lights at Thee Printemps Erable". Like the album title itself, the track ascends through a spectrum of sounds, bringing Godspeed You! Black Emperor's trademark post-rock approach a new urgency.

WATCH // Godspeed You! Black Emperor - Their Helicopters Sing/Strung Like Lights at Thee Printemps Erable

At its core, however, Allelujah! Don't Bend! Ascend! is largely similar to previous efforts such as their Slow Riot for New Zero Kanada EP or their now cult classic F# A# Infinity. The single wailing distorted guitar, the violin, cello and reverberating cymbal crash, the transition from slow chord repetition to all out manic instrumental Armageddon is like an audio signature on the album, no other band could come close to recreating this.

When Godspeed You! Black Emperor said, in what was pretty much their only interview to the English-language press, that all music is designed to distract or confront, it's obvious which route Godspeed You! Black Emperor have taken. Their political standpoint has been a talking point about the band since their conception, but it's easy to see why they chose to walk this path; coming from a generation dissatisfied with a world content to fester in its own self-worth, hiding behind a facade of equality while governments commit atrocities and the rich/poor divide grows daily. In a way, Godspeed You! Black Emperor's reformation is the most logical act the group has ever committed, arriving like a prophet into a world once again wrought by violence and oppression.

WATCH // Godspeed You! Black Emperor - Mladic

It's of little surprise then that Godspeed You! Black Emperor's new album cover should feature the words 'Fuck la Loi 78' (referring to a new bill passed banning students fom protesting) and 'Fuck le Plan Nord' (referring to a plan for economic development that involves the destruction of large sections of Quebecs wildlife).

The album isn't quite a complete return to form, there are occasional moments where you feel adrift in a sea of static and feedback, but these are a deliberate juxtaposition against the serene medley of semi-symphonic wonderment that features so heavily in the rest of the album. It's easy to see how Godspeed You! Black Emperor have become such a cult group, musically speaking, their music inspires awe, terror, amazement and euphoric happiness in the space of one track.

So Allelujah! Don't Bend! Ascend! is not just a powerful listen, but an emotional roller coaster of sorts, beautiful but ugly, serene but violent and painfully realistic for a band whose music inspires such hope. The only thing thing that Allelujah! Don't Bend! Ascend! makes certain is that Godspeed You! Black Emperor have returned, and they're just as articulated, brash and enigmatic as when they last graced our ears.

For an extra rush to the album, watch it along to Felix Baumgartner's record breaking skydive, if you time it just right, the two are an exceptional combination.

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