Album Review: Godspeed You! Black Emperor – G_d’s Pee AT STATE’S END!

[Constellation; 2021]

We live on a planet of increasing political polarisation, populist nationalism and an emerging acceptance of ‘othering’ based on fear and unjustified stigma. Never have Godspeed You! Black Emperor felt more necessary, creating sounds for now, rather than some far off dystopian environment that always seemed to be the case with their previous output.

Recent weeks in the rainy little fascist island I call home have seen police manhandling (gendered terms rarely land so well as on this occasion) peaceful attendees at a vigil for a murdered woman, while asylum seekers are housed in accommodation not fit for human habitation. Billions have been spent on cronyism, where profit comes before people and the structural racism at the core of the national identity is brushed aside with all the bluntness that comes with white privilege. Yet the stupefied masses are arguing over which voice may be hiding behind a mask on Saturday evening television fodder. With each passing year, it feels as though we are increasingly trapped in the belly of this horrible machine while it bleeds to death (but it’s going to try take us all down first). The world as detailed on Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s 1997 track “The Dead Flag Blues” has come to be.

This glorious rabble from Quebec have been producing politically charged post-rock sonic behemoths for almost 30 years, yet their righteous vitriol at the establishment only seems more pronounced, and more vital, now. As the world stumbles from one misstep to another, Godspeed You! Black Emperor have shown themselves to be unerringly prescient. Reading the literature that accompanies each of their releases is like watching Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing, in that you can’t quite believe how it becomes increasingly relevant with time when it should be consigned to the dustbin of nostalgia. We haven’t learnt a thing, and we are marching towards our own sense of obliteration in the face of the psycho right wing industrial war machine that has so much influence over our every day lives. Time to wake up, people.

So, to the music. If nothing else, the song titles on G_d’s Pee AT STATE’S END! make it easy for hacks to meet their editor’s word count demands. Album opener **takes deep breath** “A Military Alphabet (five eyes all blind) (4521.0kHz 6730.0kHz 4109.09kHz) / Job’s Lament / First of the Last Glaciers / where we break how we shine (ROCKETS FOR MARY)” begins with obfuscated noises that sound like deep sea surveillance equipment; a detuned shortwave radio and a guitar line which comes across like the wheezing, exasperated national anthem for a broken country that doesn’t yet exist. The varying movements that make up the song’s 20 minutes involve aural textures that sound simultaneously despondent, urgent and euphoric. There is a frenetic energy here that was missing from 2017’s Luciferian Towers entirely, a sense of kinetic verve that was last heard on “Mladic”, the opener to 2012’s Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!

The more succinctly titled “Fire at Static Valley” is peak Godspeed, although there’s nothing here we haven’t heard before from the band. The track builds around a few repeated melody lines of guitars and exquisite strings that underpin the track with a gorgeous melancholia. There is an undeniable beauty in the desperation of the sadness they paint, and few can evoke this emotional response like this lot. There is a slow pulsing rhythm at the back of the mix, consistent yet at times muted to the point of being inaudible as the song wallows in its own torpor. Beautiful stuff.

The third track, “GOVERNMENT CAME” (we’ll leave it at that for brevity’s sake) is a meandering 20-minute colossus of languid rapture. After a while of existing in an abyss of sorts, around the song’s halfway mark, it dissolves and reconstitutes itself. Echoes of sounds come in and out of focus, tremulous and hesitant as the uncertainty of what comes next starts to build. Weaving sounds fill the void momentarily, before a guitar refrain springs to life – the new dawn we’ve so long waited for. Strings, guitar lines and drums build towards a typically lofty crescendo that seems as though it could go on forever. And in your head it likely will.

“OUR SIDE HAS TO WIN (for D.H.)” is a majestic and lush orchestral denouement and brings G_d’s Pee AT STATE’S END! to its natural conclusion, one of optimism despite the seeming futility of it all. Rather than merely prophesising the end of things, they are clearly waiting for a new beginning, one that some believed could be possible in a post-COVID world, as so many look for an alternative to that normality that once was a given. It will take more than a global pandemic and a post-rock record to unshackle us from the grim burden of late capitalism, yet collective action should (and can) stand up to the increasing sense of individualism that has made us bring the only planet we live on to the brink of total collapse.

The tracks on G_d’s Pee AT STATE’S END! share a sense of triumphalism brought about by the communion of music. The album soundtracks the end times, while offering glimpses of hope. The dream of true collectivity is present in the music Godspeed You! Black Emperor make, with each player only serving the whole that is significantly greater than the sum of its parts. As we watch the old world tear itself asunder, the concept of emancipation via anarcho-syndicalism has never sounded so elegiac and wonderful.