I was feeling a bit apocalyptic today and so I reached for Godspeed You! Black Emporer Slow Riot For New Zero Kanada EP; 27 and a half minutes of death and resurrection, flight and fall*. I can say without fear of contradiction and you’ll have to hear me out and bear with me here, that GY!BE are my favourite 9-piece avant-classical-post-rock-holocaust purveyors from Montreal. No, it’s true – all the other ones are shit.
I love GY!BE and have done since a far cooler friend first got me into F#A# (infinity) when it first came out, so I snapped up Slow Riot For New Zero Kanada in 1999 as soon as it came out. I’ve seen them live six times (I think) and in some ways it’s a bit of a shame because when you do, you realize what a part sheer volume plays in their music. I’ve stood there just bracing myself for the crescendo at times, at other times just wanting the noise to be over – in a good way. It makes their records, absolutely brilliant though some of them are, sound a bit 2D rather than the full 3D of the live show, even more so than with most bands you lose a little of the experience.
As always with GY!BE releases this is a great object, gold-stamped Hebrew script on the cover that translates as ‘Formless & Empty’, a diagram for making a Molotov cocktail annotated in Italian on the back sleeve – we’re not in big booty bangin’ bitchez and buds territory here. Inside we have a verse of Jeremiah (4.27) again not overly jolly,
27. For thus saith the LORD:
The whole land shall be desolate;
Yet will I not make a full end.
On the flip we have a gloomy view of far off water towers in fog, and some suitably downbeat words of explanation, along with exhortations to ‘let’s build quiet armies friends, let’s march on their glass towers’. As with all GY!BE releases at the time there is an interesting card insert, below a picture of a worker bee, a play for three voices is written, a disconnected babel, ‘woke up one day and everything was dead, hollowed out, heavy as a buried ton and sinking’. It’s exactly the sort of thing I’d find insupportably pretentious in another band, but I buy into this unquestioningly because the music is just so amazing and engulfing.
When they play live, they use a lot of film – some of it is arty, but the best and the type that most exactly dovetails with their sound, is the footage of trains and railroads, roads and views from car windows that they use relentlessly. I wonder if it’s a Canadian thing, a feeling for all that distance and land mass, a sense that you are there, virtually alone, in such a humbling huge landscape; you can’t really get that on my over-crowded island other than fleetingly, even if you are off in the wilds.
There are two tracks here, ‘Moya’ and ‘BBF3’, one playable at 33 1/3 and one at 45RPM, it’s that sort of record.
‘Moya’ is classic, symphonic GY!BE, a quiet beginning ebbing and flowing, phasing and readjusting until it reaches a torrent, a real crescendo which wipes away all that had gone before it. I listened to this in the dark tonight** and apart from being able to hear my kids bickering with more clarity, I heard a real sense of yearning and landscape here. A landscape, it has to be said, of dilapidated chimneys, blizzards, run-down industrial buildings and rusting train tracks, weeds growing through the cracks, progress on the slide. The ‘sleeve notes’ state that ‘Moya’ is ‘dedicated to the disappeared cats of Mile End’ – it sounds like it, it really does move me, fluffy sap that I am.
‘BBF3’^ is a whole different ballgame, after a mysterious and eerie opening we get a track built largely around a vox pop type interview with an open night regular / forthright guy / street crazy who identifies himself as Blaise Bailey Finnegan the third. At times this is my favourite GY!BE track, certainly their most accessible one I think. The music is a faultless, complex weave, gaining momentum only to drop out and then after a full few minutes of ranting from Mr BBF3, build to a violent, shuddering, apocalyptic climax – guitars feeding back thrillingly.
i won’t spoil your enjoyment by telling you what Mr BBF3 is ranting about, but at one point he recites one of his poems, which actually turns out to be a wedge of the lyrics from the Iron Maiden track ‘Virus’; eagle-eyed metalheads amongst you will have noted that he shares (has stolen) his name with ex-Wolfsbane singer and then Iron maiden singer Blaze Bayley. Those of you with absolutely nothing better to do with your lives will remember that I was high-fived by just this very gentleman at one of their gigs in 1991, so like everything else of any importance in this world it basically all comes back to me, me, ME!!
Learn to love your doom.
*Godspeed You! Black Emporer were originally Godspeed You Black Emporer! and changed their punctuation on their Yanqui U.X.O album, but I use the latter format to keep things simple. These things matter to me.
**I know I’m a cliché, but what can I do?
^Spotify (below) have got the title wrong and it bugs me.