Godspeed! You Black Emperor ‘Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!’ – album review

Godspeed! You Black Emperor  ‘Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!’

The ultimate in post rock and a band who operate so far outside the rules, Godspeed first appeared in 1997 when they released their debut album.

The band that apparently took its name from from God Speed You! Black Emperor, a 1976 Japanese black-and-white documentary by director Mitsuo Yanagimachi, which follows the exploits of a Japanese biker gang, the Black Emperors were already in a very narrow space of their own at the time. They dressed like urban geurillas but sat down live and made music that was like classical but with the tough urban edge of punk rock and the intensity of hardcore with a big dash of the squat politic in their obscure artwork and powerful atmosphere.

Hailing from Montreal they were one of the few bands who could truly call themselves post rock and toured for 4 years from 1998 to 2002 before disappearing just as quickly as they appeared- only to suddenly appear live again in 2010 with a tour that included a great show at Manchester Academy that was a prelude to their new album which is their first since the Steve Albini recorded 2001 released Yanqui U.X.O.

This ‘new’ album sees most, if not all of the material, on it written before they broke up in 2003, and has been floating around in live recordings for years before finally been recorded properly.

The album consists of two 20-minute tracks and two six minute ones. The band don’t write songs- they create atmospheres that draw you in and the 4 lengthy pieces of dark, powerful music really trip you out, enveloping you into their own apocalyptic world of swirling and dark sound.

Opening track, Mladic, is one of the 20 minutes tracks and starts with a crackle of radio babble saying ’with his arms outstretched’ clashing against what sounds like an almost folk gypsy violin piece and that always ominous drone in the background. The key to Godpseed music is that drone- the backbone to all the great music ever made- the drone pulls you in and hypnotises you. It’s the meditative feedback Ohm of mighty dread and immortal fear- the sound of the universe matched by a line of feedback humming from the cranked amps- it’s one of the greatest sounds that exists.

The track builds to a truly psychotic mid section with the drums kicking in and holding down a psychotic riff that would almost get a moshpit slamming with its demented classical troupe trying to play Black Flag feel.
Their Helicopters Sing is one of the snappy six minute pieces and is a slow burner with the drone gradually increasing in volume as you wait for the crescendo that never arrives- a great tease.

We Drift Like Worried Fire is about the closest we get to a conventional song and starts with a finger picked violin before a hypnotic guitar arpeggio takes over as the spine of the song as really sensual strings swoon over the top creating moments of true somber beauty in the 2o minute plus track.

Strung Like Lights At the Printemps Erable starts with a string section hum and builds into noise/drone sections- it sounds like you are drifting in outer space in one of those seventies sci- fi films- almost Space Odyssey but with an added dread to the sound- please don’t take hallucigenics when you listen to this it will do you no good at all!

Godspeed make music that fills your room with that apocalyptic dread and that’s a good thing, the album is spell binding and their powerful instrumentals take the ebb and flow of classical music and crank them through the power of electricity and rock music. There is very little music that has taken this long and strange trip unless you care to mention the Space Ritual era of Hawkwind which has that same kind of all enveloping instrumentation and beyondness- except Hawkwind had a riff and Godpseed don’t bother with any of that kind of stuff.

The swirl of sound incorporates drones, classical instruments, feedback and even what sounds like some Hare Krishna chanting in one part of one song creating a real sense of tension and menace.

Godspeed really know how to slow burn a song, building with an amazing tension as the room fill with their dread before it explodes into moments of powerful beauty.

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Award winning journalist and boss of Louder Than War. In a 30 year music writing career, John was the first to write about bands such as Stone Roses and Nirvana and has several best selling music books to his name. He constantly tours the world with Goldblade and the Membranes playing gigs or doing spoken word and speaking at music conferences.


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