Godspeed You! Black Emperor note (formerly Godspeed You Black Emperor!, often abbreviated to GYBE or GY!BE or shortened to Godspeed You!, and erroneously God Speed You Black Emperor!, sometimes God's Pee in their liner notes) 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 1970 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.Band members:
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)
Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven (2000)
Yanqui U.X.O. (2002)
’Allelujah! Don't Bend! Ascend! (2012)
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.
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♯ ∞.
“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 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.”
’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.
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).
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, 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.
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.
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.
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).
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.”
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.”
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.
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."
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.