It takes a special something to operate in near total obscurity yet command global recognition and acclaim; Godspeed You! Black Emperor have always had that elusive yet crucial ingredient. Save for their manifesto-style liner-notes, the group has long been veiled in mystery, allowing their music and live performances to speak for themselves, which included extensive touring following the release of 2017’s Luciferian Towers. The pandemic forced them, as it did every band, to slow down and return home, where they hunkered down to record their most raw album to date: G_d’s Pee AT STATE’S END! “We wrote it on the road mostly. When that was still a place. And then recorded it in masks later, distanced at the beginning of the second wave,” reads a statement the band released with the album’s announcement. On G_d’s Pee AT STATE’S END!, Godspeed You! Black Emperor channel social unrest and political turmoil into music that’s furious, passionate, and intimately human.
The band has always operated as an instrumental group, employing samples and field recordings to convey any verbal messages. The field recordings the band chooses typically feel very deliberate, providing thought-provoking depth to their music. Opening track “A Military Alphabet” begins with layered recordings of unknown voices and what sounds like effects-laden military drills, providing a somber entry point. Keys begin to drone, followed by a chorus of distorted guitar, bowed strings, and other fragmented sounds. The band’s unique sound is a constant ebb and flow, evolving further at each turn. The song has classical composition at its core, yet builds into what sounds like Sleep backed by a desert-rock orchestra, a testament to the group’s broad musical sensibilities. A recording of distant, spaced out gunshots finishes out the track, and it’s an unnerving conclusion to a song with such a grandiose feel.
Sonic peaks and valleys are key to the band’s music, and their dynamic range results in an all-enveloping, emotionally engaging experience. “Fire at Static Valley” is probably the heaviest, most moving track on the album, despite it also being the quietest. The sound is classic Godspeed You! Black Emperor: orchestral rhythms, melodies cascading against each other, and dense layers forming a wall of delicate yet impenetrable sound. “Government Came” begins with a field recording of a mysterious voice and layered noise. Similar to the first track, the solemn mood is broken by an angular, overdriven guitar riff, a possible motif of the album. Tremolo picked guitar melodies mash against what sounds like fiddle or violin, giving the song an air of Americana meets black metal. About halfway through, the song is enveloped by a swath of fuzzy noise, and the mood becomes more somber. A triumphant crescendo of instruments finishes out the track.
G_d’s Pee AT STATE’S END! concludes with an atmospheric, cinematic piece titled “OUR SIDE HAS TO WIN (for D.H.).” Despite the song’s melancholic atmosphere, there’s an undercurrent of desperate hope, lending weight to the title.
While the sound of Godspeed You! Black Emperor is still crushing, this record manages to feel uniquely vulnerable compared to the distant, mysterious air of their past work. This record has a looser, more improvisational feel and seems like a few layers of obscurity were peeled back, letting vulnerability shine through. “Much love to all the other lost and lovely ones, these are death-times and our side has to win,” the band says, “we’ll see you on the road once the numbers fall.” G_d’s Pee AT STATE’S END! is a welcome score to our world’s hellscape, and there’s no band more suited to soundtrack an apocalypse than Godspeed You! Black Emperor.