GODSPEED YOU! BLACK EMPEROR – ‘Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!
It’s been ten years since Godspeed’s last album, and while they have carried on touring (in fact, I saw them in Norwich in 2011) it did look like a new album was not on the cards. It was with some surprise, therefore, that I saw online that this was coming out towards the end of last year – then with little or no fanfare it just appeared. Consisting of just four tracks, two of them are nearly twenty minutes long, taking up both sides of the vinyl issue, with the two shorter tracks coming as a free 7” single. ‘Mladic’ opens with a snatch of found sound before the violins make their appearance to start slowly building up the track so that when the guitars make a solid entrance at around the seven minute mark they sound even more ferocious. From then on it’s as if the band had never been away, with swathes of sound building over each other to produce a truly stupendous piece of music. As with most Godspeed tracks, it is full of light and shade, with crashing guitars alternating with gentle violins, building and falling back, before a superb riff emerges from nowhere to close the piece. If this was the only track on the album then I would be more than happy to play this on repeat until their next release, but we also have ‘We Drift Like Worried Fire’, which is another superb piece although in a slightly more subdued vein. A guitar picks out the riff while the other instruments drone in the background and a lone violin plays a dreamy melody. This then gradually builds to a point where the whole band is involved, before instruments slowly fade away one by one until just the violin is left. The band then gradually make a re-appearance, with the rest of the strings taking centre stage while an insistent riff holds things together in the background, building louder and louder, fading away and then building again to a thrilling climax. Some carping critics have complained that these two lengthy pieces were actually in the band’s live set way back in 2003, and that these are merely rehashes of old tracks, but surely that doesn’t matter now that we have the defintive versions that we can play whenever we like. The two shorter pieces could be classed as their ‘new’ new stuff, with ‘Their Helicopters’ Sing’ being a short drone-based track with what sounds like treated bagpipes drifting in and out, and ‘Strung Like Lights At Thee Printemps Erable’ is a similar piece where the drone takes centre stage and seems to have less going on than ‘…Helicopters…’. Both interesting, but not as essential as the two main tracks. Great to have the band back in the recording studio showing that they’ve still got what it takes to be one of the best indie/experimental groups around – and let’s hope they don’t wait another decade for the follow-up.