By Sarah Kitteringham
Following the announcement that they would be curating and appearing at 2015’s rendition of Sled Island, Godspeed You! Black Emperor have been on the lips of many Calgarians. The catastrophic instrumentalists have a rabid cult following given their gorgeous yet menacing discography; their re-emergence in 2010 has done nothing to damage their legacy. Their dense wall of sound, fashioned by multiple guitars, basses, drums, film projections, a violin and keyboards, has long been emulated but never matched by “post-rock” acts. Indeed, GY!BE has mastered the art of dynamics astutely, inducing varied emotional responses within their lengthy song frameworks that evokes anxiety and politicism despite never speaking a word. 2012’s Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend continued this lineage, and was a logical sonic follow-up to 2002’s excellent Yanqui U.X.O. For their efforts, the band won the Polaris Prize. Rather than relishing the $30,000 purse, they robustly rejected it, criticizing that “holding a gala during a time of austerity and normalised decline is a weird thing to do,” instead donating the money to establish music education projects in Quebec prisons. The move was hardly out of line; the collective’s politics swing left, as demonstrated by the swelling, creepy opener on Allelujah! dubbed “Mladic.” It closes with a field recording of jubilant banging on pots and pans, captured during the Montreal student protests over tuition hikes that dominated the news in 2012.
With that we are brought to the brand new, fifth studio album, Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress. While it hardly varies from the GY!BE approach, said approach is so captivating that it’s not a criticism and rather a blissful affirmation. Opener “Peasantry, or ‘Light! Inside of Light!” creeps into being with shuffling percussion, quickly swelling with its jarring horns blaring over the sometimes jarring, sometimes rich crescendos of violin. Follower “Lambs’ Breath” is minimalist and trembling with its crystallized waves of noise and dirge that bleeds directly into rumbling grower (not shower) “Asunder, Sweet.” Emphatic violin then begins the colossal, lengthy album closer “Piss Crowns are Trebled,” where the fat, muffled riffs are juxtaposed by military-esque snare and looming strings. Eventually, the track demonstrates why GY!BE is so influential: their skilful juxtaposition of quiet and loud is never a crutch. Here, the loud is crashing and captivating, immersing the listener in a wall of sound. Finally, Asunder… trails off to a quiet end, leaving the listener on-edge, tired, but determined. In that emotional induction, Godspeed reigns supreme.Asunder, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, GY!BE, Sled Island, Sweet and Other Distress