There’s something perversely reassuring and unerringly appropriate about the arrival of a new album by Godspeed You! Black Emperor both in the middle of a pandemic and after a year of political and social turbulence. They’ve built their existence on providing soundtracks to varying gradations of apocalypse since releasing their debut album back in 1997, so their appearance to do so for the current global upheaval sort of feels half expected, not to mention very much welcome.
We may be living in different times but the album’s release has been very Godspeed. No pre-released tracks and minimal build up in general – and even the single online airing of the album in full a week before release felt unusually generous for them, although it was accompanied by familiar abstract, flickering monochrome visuals reminiscent of their live shows.
The brief note shared by the band on the album’s background reveals how “we wrote it on the road mostly. when that was still a place. And then recorded it in masks later, distanced at the beginning of the second wave. It was autumn, and the falling sun was impossibly fat and orange. We tried to summon a brighter reckoning there, bent beneath varied states of discomfort, worry and wonderment”.
It’s fair to say that you generally know what you’re getting with new Godspeed albums these days, but that doesn’t make the appearance of a new album any less thrilling. G_d’s Pee AT STATE’S END! might follow a certain well worn path but still sounds magnificent, especially at volume, pulling you in like a rip tide.
It has a similar structure to a couple of their last albums, Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend! and Asunder, Sweet And Other Distress, in that it consists of four pieces, two long and two short. Opening track A Military Alphabet begins with the sound of distant, wailing voices being carried by a howling wind before escalating, lurching guitars gradually take over, slowly building before reaching their nerve-shredding apex.
As always there’s a strangely uplifting euphoria buried deep within the doom, proof that their albums continue to offer that one quality that could be previously seen projected behind them in their live shows, namely hope. The inevitable sudden slowing down later on once again conveys a sense of alienation and fear just as well as any words could. In terms of its title alone, Fire At Static Valley is possibly the most Godspeed sounding track they’ve released. Musically, it’s a good match also, lower key and seemingly contemplating its fate far out in the void, part of a blemished, uneasy post-rock symphony that seems to have momentarily lost its way.
Government Came is the other extended piece, opening with the sound of unsettled, crackly transistor radio voices that give way to a quintessentially slow, methodically Godspeed build up, an upwards trudge through an all too real dystopia. Serrated guitars re-emerge but there’s almost a sweetness to them in how they spiral skywards, a sign possibly that this also might be the most accessible GY!BE album yet.
Last track Our Side Has To Win is closer in sound to what some of the group have previously released under the A Silver Mt Zion name in how cleansed it sounds, an elegiac, string-based postscript that mourns all that has gone before it. “We’ll see you on the road once the numbers fall” they promise at the end of their accompanying text, and with an album as strong as this it’s a prospect that can’t come soon enough.