During their initial 1994-2003 run, Montreal orchestro-rock nonet Godspeed You! Black Emperor projected an impenetrable air of mystery—no lyrics, no interviews, no press photos—as if privacy was a precious commodity to be hoarded in anticipation of the internet’s explosion of exhibitionism. This cryptic quality has only intensified since the band’s surprise reunion in 2010: the release of ’Allelujah!, their first album in 10 years, was announced only last week, while the vinyl version spreads two colossal 20-minute tracks over a 12-inch LP and two come-down drones over a seven-inch single, meant to be played in alternating order.
But in spite of these mysterious strategies, ’Allelujah! proves to be Godspeed’s most approachable and uNapologetically rockin’ set to date: The first suite, “Mladic,” captures the sound of a beast reawakening, hammering at a doomy one-chord riff until the song blows up into a heavy-metal “Hava Nagila,” while its epic counterpart, “We Drift Like Worried Fire,” pits tear-jerking guitar fireworks against ominous cello-driven passages en route to a rapturous climax.
Over the past decade, there have been many bands—like Texas’ Explosions in the Sky and Japan’s Mono—who’ve emulated Godspeed’s crashing crescendos in a manner that feels overly premeditated, smoothly traversing the peaks and valleys as if riding a steel roller coaster. Godspeed (or God’s Pee, as the album artwork cheekily labels them), by contrast, convey an old-world tactility that lets you feel all the sweaty labour that goes into producing this music and hints at the possibility that it might all fall apart, thereby making their ascensions feel that much more triumphant and rewarding. In the album’s credits, the band tellingly use the phrase “God’s Pee was” to introduce the players, suggesting ’Allelujah! represents a last-gasp completion of unfinished business (these songs reportedly date back to 2003) rather than the start of a new chapter.
But their ultimate legacy is spelled out in the dying minutes of “Mladic,” when the song’s stormy squall gives way to the inspiring sound of street protesters banging pots and pans. The lesson here: When you don’t have the luxury of playing in an internationally revered orchestro-rock nonet, make your own noise through any means possible.
Playlist picks: Godspeed don’t do playlists.