Above and Beyond
Returning now 10 years after their previous effort, 2002’s Yanqui U.X.O, Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s latest record is an engaging opus that retains what we have come to expect of them, while injecting interesting and affecting droning textures to the mix. Judging by the title of the record, as well as the overall tone therein, one could guess there is a subtle political–revolutionary spirit to this album. However, in true fashion for the band, the tone remains enigmatic without sacrificing any effectiveness or power.
The album is organized simply: four tracks, alternating between two 20-minute winding opuses, and two six-minute drone tracks. In all honesty, there is very little to the two drone tracks (“Their Helicopters Sing” and “Strung Like Lights At Thee Printemps Erable”), as both ride “fade-in” dynamics and build slowly on the power of squeaking strings and a smattering of restrained, if foreboding guitar feedback before finally fading out again. Though there is a sense of artistry here, the tension of the two tracks overall is somewhat lessened by their similar structures upon second and third listens.
Understandably, the above two tracks were likely meant as introspective reprieves in the midst of what is undeniably the meat of the album: 40 minutes of powerful, affecting orchestral rock pieces. Though the phrasing of this assessment might press the wrong buttons for those of a certain disposition, it is genuinely said with endearment. There are moments on ‘Allelujah! that proceed with a downright heroic flair that has become a trademark for the band. After being cued in by what sounds like a military radio transmission, the band begins the record by launching into an almost “Tommorow Never Knows” like trance that calls forth in the mind images of helicopters circling over the smoking ruins of a battle-torn city.
The band is in excellent form, as they stew and accelerate in a tightly wound unit. Though much of the album is about waxing a theme and atmosphere to orbit the center of each track, the guitars are given ample space to showcase their attack, as the middle 10-minute stretch in “Mladic” shows. “We Drift Like Worried Fire” takes a little longer to get going, building slower and through more tangible moods than its twin epic, but builds to probably the most satisfying moments of the album. Crescendos abound until the guitar reaches a swirling, fevered pitch that raises the band to their highest point of ascension.
Moments like these balance out the more experimental moods of other tracks, and as the band kicks up a highly inspiring racket, they proceed to toe genre lines most impressively. At these instances of the band at their most focused, they inevitably show the album’s title is by no means a non sequitur, but a statement of purpose. Godspeed You! Black Emperor keeps firm control of their theme and tone throughout, all the while elevating above their listener and, as one might guess, even themselves.