Album Review: Godspeed You! Black Emperor – Slow Riot for New Zerø Kanada

February 4, 2009

Artist: Godspeed You! Black Emperor
Album: Slow Riot for New Zerø Kanada
Released: Constellation Records, 1999
Reviewer: Robert Lennon

“I beheld the earth,
And, lo, it was waste and void;
And the heavens, and they had no light.” – Jeremiah 4:23
“Tohu va vohu” is the Hebrew phrase on the album cover, and can be translated as “waste and void.” And that is the themes of this album, the second release by the Montreal-based post rock collective Godspeed You! Black Emperor. The atmosphere of this album is dark and foreboding, and eventually explodes in a climax of unparalleled force.

There are two tracks in the album, “Moya” and “Blaise Bailey Finnegan III”, although the album is really a single song of about 30 minutes split into two movements. You can listen to either one on its’ own, but together their emotional strength is much greater. “Moya” begins with subdued strings, a cello and violin. They slowly build together for a few minutes as the guitars add a high wail to the background. Then the band begins the main section of the song, where the entire band comes to create a wall of sound that envelops the listener in the sound of loss. When I first heard the song, I thought that whoever Moya was must have died, the band cries out for their own personal loss so powerfully. After eight minutes or so, the drums pick up speed until the band climaxes. Then the strings cut back in, and the album moves straight into “Blaise Bailey Finnegan III”.

BBF3 is the heart of the album. It starts off slow, again, but this time with the interview of a man the band calls “Blaise Bailey Finnegan III” in the foreground, with the band providing a musical counterpart to Blaise’s sincere yet misguided rant. He rants against the government, he rants against society, he rants against other people, but never thinks he might be part of the problem. His poem, which provides the set-up for the climax of the album (and is also taken mostly from the song “Virus” by Iron Maiden), decries the apathy of man, but just before he recites it he says that there’s nothing for us to do, “we’re just basically in a hopeless situation as it stands.” As he gets more and more into his speech, the band plays with him, presenting the musical version of the world Blaise inhabits. It is not a happy world. As Blaise begins to count the myriad of firearms he owns, the track continues the music gets more and more lonely. A piano underlies Blaise as he says that the world will continue to go down and down with no hope of recovery. After his poem, the song seems to lull for a moment, but it is just a time for the listener to prepare for the finale of the album, one of the finest I have ever heard. The climax of the album is emotionally draining in its’ strength. It is so powerful, fast, and sincere, that the listener is blown away by the combination of roaring guitars, drums being smashed, and strings attacking the listener through their music. One might wonder if this is what the world Blaise lives in sounds like. Whatever the meaning of the music, it is a wonder to marvel at. The entire band is at full force, and at the end of the climax, you are left gasping for breath. But the band provides a few minutes of denouement, with ghost-like strings laid over the sound of some creature crying out. The band ends the release as it began, contemplating the “waste and void”, not just of personal life but also of societal interaction, from the beginning.

Possibly the most accessible release from Godspeed You! Black Emperor, this EP showcases all the marks that made the group so good and influential: musical dynamism, a focus not just on personal issues but cultural ones (exemplified by BBF3), and bone-breaking climaxes. If you haven’t yet, check this one out, I guarantee it will not disappoint.

Godspeed You! Black Emperor was:
Efrim Menuck — guitar, keyboards
David Bryant — guitar, tapes
Mauro Pezzente — bass guitar
Thierry Amar — bass guitar
Aidan Girt — drums, percussion
Bruce Cawdron — drums, percussion, keyboards
Sophie Trudeau — violin
Norsola Johnson — cello
Mike Moya — guitar


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