Music: Godspeed You! Black Emperor
Godspeed You! Black Emperor note
are a Montreal based symphonic post-rock band. They are known for their movement-based, side-length suites, inclusion of samples and field recordings, and employment of minimalism in their music.
Their music is also incredibly dark.
Godspeed You! Black Emperor released four albums (including a demo album) and an EP from 1994 to 2003 before splitting up, then reforming in 2010 to go on a reunion tour, and released their fifth album in October 2012.
The group takes its name from a 1976 black-and-white Japanese biker film. The group’s debut recording, All Lights Fucked on the Hairy Amp Drooling
, was released in 1994 and limited to thirty-three copies on cassette. The group’s label, Constellation Records, has one copy, but the locations of the rest are unknown. Due to its rarity, it’s a bit of a case of Dis Continuity
with fans, although this is mostly because no one outside the label and the band’s close circle of friends has actually heard it (despite recordings claiming to be this tape leaking out on occasion, they have all, thus far, proven to be fakes).
The follow up (generally considered to be their actual debut album), F♯ A♯ ∞
, was released in 1997 on vinyl and 1998 on CD. The two editions are notably different; the CD version is almost twice the length of the vinyl due to added, lengthened, and rearranged movements. It is considered by some a loose Concept Album
about the apocalypse.
Godspeed would stick to the minimalist, dissonant style of F♯ A♯ ∞
for their breakthrough and magnum opus Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas To Heaven
, a double album with four tracks. This style would be modified for 2002’s Yanqui U.X.O.
, produced by none other than Steve Albini
After nearly eight years on hiatus, the band reunited for a few shows in 2010, and gradually extended this engagement into tours over the next two years. After more than ten years without releasing new material or announcing plans to, the band started quietly selling their fifth album, ’Allelujah! Don't Bend! Ascend!,
at their live shows.
Their best-known songs are probably “The Dead Flag Blues,” “East Hastings,” “Storm,” and “09-15-00” due to their use in films and television (“East Hastings” was notably used in 28 Days Later
It’s also worth noting that their music contains a strong political component. They have been repeatedly described in the media as anarchists
, although for a long time no one in the group explicitly subscribed to this label; however, Menuck called himself an anarchist in a 2014 interview
. (The band's politics are hilariously lampshaded in sister project Silver Mt. Zion's FAQ
). In any case, their music definitely articulates a strong anti-authoritarian and anti-capitalist stance, which is even more explicit in sister band A Silver Mt. Zion (which contains several of the same members). That said, Efrim Menuck has said the band don’t consciously try to be political, but simply write songs about the sort of things they talk about with their friends.
- David Bryant – Guitar, tapes
- Efrim Menuck – Guitar, tapes, keyboards
- Mike Moya – Guitar
- Sophie Trudeau – Violin
- Thierry Amar – Bass, contrabass
- Mauro Pezzente – Bass
- Tim Herzog – Drums, percussion
- Aidan Girt – Drums, percussion
- Karl Lemieux – Film, stage projections, art, etc.
- Bruce Cawdron – drums, percussion
- Norsola Johnson – cello
- Roger Tellier-Craig – guitar
- Grayson Walker – accordion
- James Chau – keyboards, harpsichord, guitar
- Thea Pratt – French horn
- John Littlefair – film projections
- Fluffy Erskine – film projections
- Peter Harry Hill – bagpipes
- F♯ A♯ ∞ (Pronounced ‘F Sharp A Sharp Infinity,’ 1997; CD version, which was completely re-recorded and featured new material, was released in 1998)
- Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven (2000)
- Yanqui U.X.O. (2002)
- ’Allelujah! Don't Bend! Ascend! (2012)
- 'Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress' (2015)
EPs, singles, and other releases:
- All Lights Fucked on the Hairy Amp Drooling (Demo, 1994)
- aMAZEzine! 7” (1998, split single with Fly Pan Am)
- Slow Riot For New Zerø Kanada (EP, 1999)
- After the End: The monologue in “The Dead Flag Blues” describes this.
- Album Title Drop: A subtle one in F♯ A♯ ∞. Side A of the vinyl begins in the key of F♯, side B begins in the key of A♯, and the record ends in an infinite locked groove.
- Badass Beard: Efrim Menuck.
- B-Side: They contributed this to a split 7” single with fellow post-rock band Fly Pan Am.
- Big Rock Ending: “Providence,” following four minutes of silence.
- Bolero Effect: A favorite technique of theirs. Every track on F♯ A♯ ∞ does this at least once.
- Bread, Eggs, Milk, Squick: Lift Your Skinny Fists is a relatively normal post-rock album, with the usual dark, movement-based suites and 20-minute tracks. Then, out of nowhere, this happens (0:00 – 1:14).
- Broken Record: The loop at the end of the vinyl edition of F♯ A♯ ∞.
- Concept Album: F♯ A♯ ∞ is considered this by some fans.
- Cover Version: The very first movement of “Antennas to Heaven,” “Moya Sings ‘Baby-O’” is Exactly What It Says on the Tin: Mike Moya singing the folk song “What’ll We Do With the Baby-O.”
- Crapsack World: The monologue that introduces “The Dead Flag Blues.”
- Creepy Monotone:
- “They had a large barge with a radio antenna tower on it, that they would charge up and discharge.” in the middle of “East Hastings.”
- The opening monologue of “The Dead Flag Blues,” at least for the first few lines.
- Digital Piracy Is Evil: Averted completely. The band allow fans to tape and circulate their shows. There are a ton (and we mean a ton) at the Internet Archive. This is often a way to hear songs before they are released; for example, the two centrepieces of the band’s most recent album were débuted live nine years before the release of the album. The (forty-four-minute-long) song "Behemoth", which is currently being performed regularly, has yet to be released on an album (although it will be released on the band's forthcoming LP later this year) and is available in several recordings.
- Dissonant Serenity: “The skyline was beautiful on fire, all twisted metal stretching upwards, everything washed in a thin orange haze.” from “The Dead Flag Blues.”
- Distinct Double Album:
- Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas To Heaven.
- ’Allelujah! Don't Bend! Ascend! is a somewhat bizarre case. The vinyl edition is spread across an LP and a 7", with two long suites on the LP and two shorter drone pieces on the 7". The intended order, however, is to play the first side of the LP, then the first side of the 7", then the second side of the LP, and finally the second side of the 7".
- Dystopia: “The sewers are all muddied with a thousand lonely suicides, and a dark wind blows. The government is corrupt, and we’re on so many drugs, with the radio on and the curtains drawn. We're trapped in the belly of this horrible machine, and the machine is bleeding to death.”
- Earn Your Happy Ending: "The Dead Flag Blues" ends like this. The majority of the song is dark and melancholic but the last few minutes of the song is upbeat and hopeful.
- Echoing Acoustics: Common throughout F♯ A♯ ∞, but particularly “East Hastings.”
- Epic Rocking: In spades. Long story short, it's easier to count the number of Godspeed songs that are under 10 minutes than over. It is not uncommon for a song of theirs to exceed twenty minutes in length; a song they started performing in 2012, “Behemoth”, is nearly forty-five. This extends to a lot of their sister projects, too, although it's not as extreme with most of them (A Silver Mt. Zion, for example, have yet to have a song exceed twenty minutes, unless you count He Has Left Us Alone... as only two songs, as the vinyl edition does; furthermore, most of the band's side projects have more than three released songs that are under ten minutes in length).
- Excited Show Title!
- Exactly What It Says on the Tin: The Yanqui U.X.O. vinyl bonus track, "George Bush Cut Up While Talking".
- Eye Scream: “Every time the baby cries / I stick my fingers in the baby’s eyes / That’s what we do with the baby-o.”
- Fake-Out Fade-Out: All the damn time, but especially “Providence.”
- Instrumentals: Most songs, though many have spoken word.
- Last Note Nightmare:
- The fly-like buzzing tone at the end of “East Hastings” is incredibly unnerving.
- The locked groove at the end of the vinyl edition of F♯ A♯ ∞.
- Long Title:
- Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven.
- All Lights Fucked on the Hairy Amp Drooling
- Loudness War: Most of their discography averts this trope magnificently (as an example, most of Yanqui is in the DR9-DR13 range), but 'Allelujah! falls into this trope to a certain extent. At DR6, it's far from the worst offender out there, but it's also way less dynamic than their other work, and for music that relies so much on crescendi it really does squash a lot of the depth out of the music. From sister project A Silver Mt. Zion, the only albums to suffer badly are 13 Blues for Thirteen Moons and Kollaps Tradixionales (perhaps not surprisingly, as these are the two most recent. Both are DR8 (if you exclude the twelve short intro tracks on 13 Blues), which isn't bad for most genres of music, but is pretty bad for Post-Rock). This isn't to say the earlier releases of either band are completely immune, as there are still passages that have obviously been flattened out a bit and there's a bit of clipping on some of the loudest passages, but it's nothing that ruins the recording and not something casual listeners are likely to notice.
- Fuck Off Get Free We Pour Light on Everything continues the borderline use of this trope in ASMZ's recent music, at DR7.
- Lyrical Dissonance: “Moya Sings Baby-O,” the first movement in “Antennas to Heaven,” features Mike Moya singing a jaunty, upbeat tune about throwing an infant into a hayloft, feeding it alcohol and stabbing its eyes out. The fact that it appears out of nowhere in the middle of a primarily instrumental symphonic post-rock record makes it even creepier.
- Meaningful Name: F♯ A♯ ∞ looks like gibberish, but the first song on the vinyl starts in the key of F♯, while the second song starts in A♯ and ends with a locked groove (hence the "∞"). This is something of an Artifact Title on the CD version because there is no locked groove and there are three songs (although the first two songs start in the same keys).
- Minimalistic Cover Art: All of their albums, but LYSFLATH and Slow Riot in particular.
- Mistaken for Terrorists: During the 2003 Yanqui U.X.O. Tour in the US, the band stopped for fuel in Ardmore, Oklahoma. The station attendant working that day assumed they were terrorists, and got another customer to call the police. The cops were suspicious of the band due to their possession of anti-government documents and photos of oil rigs, communication towers, etc. After running a background check, all was well and they were released. The band sometimes joke about the incident at shows.
- Mood Whiplash: “Moya Sings Baby-O,” the movement at the beginning of “Antennas to Heaven,” comes out of nowhere and is a jaunty little guitar song. About abusing an infant. Afterward, the songs shifts back into the expected dark, symphonic number.
- “Storm” starts off with an incredible build-up to an almost heroic, inspiring melody (“Levez Vos Skinny Fists Comme Antennas to Heaven”), only to suddenly shift to something quite foreboding and intimidating (“Il pleut à mourir [+Clatters Like Worry]”), just before collapsing into pure sadness. (“Cancer Towers on Holy Road Hi-Way”)
- "We Drift Like Worried Fire" starts out with the band's trademark creepiness, suddenly transitions into a gorgeous crescendo, then fades back into creepiness again.
- New Sound Album: Yanqui U.X.O. lacks having clearly defined movements and the spoken word samples found on their other albums. 'Allelujah! continues the trend for the most part, apart from a brief sample at the start of "Mladic".
- Not Christian Rock: Religion and the religious appear throughout their music, and the band have been known to play concerts in churches. However, they most certainly are not Christian rock. (Not least because several members are Jewish).
- Post-Rock: One of the better known examples.
- Precision F-Strike: All Lights Fucked on the Hairy Amp Drooling and “Motherfucker=Redeemer.”
- '"I'm here to pay off my speeding ticket and I'm here to get my fines out of the way and get the fuck to work." The judge says "You can't talk like that in my courtroom, you're in contempt of court." Then I said... I told the judge, "If that's the best you can do, I feel sorry for you." I said "Why don't you just shut your fucking mouth for once and listen?" I said "I'm not gonna take any shit." I said "I'm gonna pay my speeding ticket like I said." I walked up to the god damn judge and I hand him my 25 dollars and I says "Here's my money, now I am leaving." And I left it at that'
- Revolving Door Band: During the time period between All Lights and F♯ A♯ ∞, which led to recording difficulties.
- Sampling: Loads of songs, but particularly “Storm,” “Providence,” and “Motherfucker=Redeemer.”
- Scary Musician, Harmless Music: Inverted. The band’s music can be horrifying, but the band themselves are a bunch of polite Canadians.
- Shout-Out: “BBF3” on Slow Riot features a poem supposedly written by an interviewee (the core of the song is the man’s rambling responses to questions), which is actually made of lyrics taken from Iron Maiden’s “Virus.”
- Something Blues: Of the “Dead Flag” variety.
- Song Style Shift: Very often.
- Spoken Word in Music: 90% of their songs have this, including all of LYSF and F♯ A♯ ∞. Most notable would be “The Dead Flag Blues,” whose opening monologue describes a Dystopia that occurs After the End, “Static,” which has a long, rambling, insane sounding rant from a street preacher in it, “BBF3,” built around an interview, and “Motherfucker=Redeemer,” which (on the vinyl version) ends with a chopped-up speech from George W. Bush.
- Stargate City: “East Hastings” is named for the skid road/Downtown Eastside district of Vancouver, known for its high concentration of drug use and being the poorest neighborhood in Canada.
- Subdued Section: Every song has at least one.
- Textless Album Cover: F♯ A♯ ∞, Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas To Heaven, and Yanqui U.X.O.
- The Bible: The cover art of Slow Riot is the Hebrew phrase “Tohu vaVohu,” the state of chaos that the world was in before Creation in the book of Genesis, lifted directly from a Hebrew Bible (including the tonal diacritics for Torah reading). It is variously translated as “without form and void”, “void and waste”, “formless and empty”, and several other frequently seen combinations.
- Title Drop: “The sun has fallen down, and the billboards are all leering. The flags are all dead at the top of their poles.”
- "We used to sleep on the beach."
- "Welcome to Arco AM/PM..." (not Barco, as mislabeled on the album - am/pms are only associated with Arco gas stations.)
- "And so I went through that window, and the tower of Hell and the great serpentines of the highest order, and I went through that when I showed you chart #3..." - from the slightly unnerving Go Mad from the Revelation religious rant that takes place midway into "Static", titled "Chart #3".
- Uncommon Time: Occasionally. “Dead Metheny” is in 7/8. One segment of “Motherfucker=Redeemer” is a polyrhythm with a guitar part in 5/8 and most of the rest in 6/8. A later segment of the song is also in 7/8.
- Villain Song: “Mladic” appears to be this, as it shares its name with a notorious war criminal.
- Wham Line: “I open up my wallet. And it’s full of blood.”
- "They don't sleep anymore on the beach."
- Wild Hair: Efrim Menuck.
- Word Salad Title: All Lights Fucked on the Hairy Amp Drooling.
- Word Puree Title: F♯ A♯ ∞ (Pronounced "F Sharp A Sharp Infinity")