Godspeed You! Black Emperor often seem like a band for whom words aren't enough; their entire instrumental discography, often labeled as post-rock, but taking in everything from freeform jazz to harsh noise, and powered by an impassioned punk grit, could be seen as an attempt to vent their contempt at the socio-political through the only means they have.
After a decade-long hiatus ended with 2012's magnificent 'Allelujah! Don't Bend! Ascend!', 'G_d's Pee at State's End!' marks the band's fourth album in nine years, and it finds them in robust form. Recorded at the band's own Montreal studio in the midst of the pandemic, with The Besnard Lakes' Jace Lacek at the helm, GY!BE have cherry-picked from the sonic extremities of their back catalogue; a library of musical and atmospheric exploration that is much about mood as it is about melody.
The record, like their most recent work, contains two sprawling suites, each framed by smaller, self-contained pieces of shimmering instrumentation. The first suite, the title of which I'll abbreviate to 'A Military Alphabet' (their full song titles are beginning to equal their track lengths now), is fourteen minutes of crescendo, discordant strings and molten percussion swirling around the relentless post-rock guitar and bass, before a post-climactic coda ties together everything from 70s prog-rock to old-time country.
'Fire at Static Valley' follows, and is as traditionally post-rock as they've ever sounded; the haunting glimmer of reverb drenched guitar could quite easily be lifted from one of Mogwai's soundtrack albums.
The second grand suite of the record, 'Government Came', slows the pace and heightens the tension, flitting from drone to noise to ambience, before a glorious, and dare I say it, optimistic major-key resolution, bombastically lifts the album to a euphoric peak. Being careful not to end on too happy a note, GY!BE close with the reflective 'OUR SIDE HAS TO WIN (for D.H)', a swell of mournful strings and an aching epilogue.
One of GY!BE's great strengths is managing to sound both vastly orchestrated and yet organically improvisational; the sound of a skilled ensemble soundtracking the apocalypse without a conductor, taking each scene as it comes. Twenty-seven years on from their formation, their ability to convey the spectrum of both emotional and political feeling through the raw power of music remains unparalleled.
Words: David Weaver
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