Godspeed You! Black Emperor

Godspeed You! Black Emperor


The last time I saw Godspeed You! Black Emperor (GSY!BE for now on for ease) was on their comeback from hiatus in around 2011 at the beautiful Troxy in London, and it was a thing of utter beauty and joy. For me (and many others), GSY!BE are the post rock band, and for people who (like me!) weren’t really into them first time round (through ignorance rather than not liking them) to see them on a live setting with the promise of new material was a Big Deal. It wasn’t a let down, the Canadians creating a masterclass of noise and beauty with unreleased material making up the majority of the set. That material ended up as an album, ‘Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!’, which wasn’t strictly new – the band had been playing some of it before their 2003 hiatus, so it kinda picked up from then. Now though, GSY!BE are back touring an album of proper, brand new material for the first time in over a decade, an album that many people thought might never exist, and all in the incredible setting of Manchester’s Albert Hall, which makes London’s Troxy look like your local village hall.

The Albert Hall is swathed in darkness, a ridiculous amount of equipment is on stage, and the crowd is heavy with expectation. As the standard GSY!BE projector screen flickers into life, the 8 current members of the band (have a glance at their Wiki page for a snapshot of the ever changing nature of the line up) take their places on stage, almost sat in the round, one guitarist with their back to the crowd the entire time. They slowly build up ‘Hope Drone’ as an introduction, the violinist and double bassist doing most of the leg work in constructing a wall of noise with glorious flecks of sweet melody amongst it’s haze. It’s the perfect way to ease us into an enormous new song that even fans haven’t christened yet (there’s a subset of hardcore Godspeed-ers who fervently follow the band and have names for unreleased songs).

What follows is almost too brilliant. ‘Mladic’ from ‘Allelujah!’ is one of their best songs, old or new, and it’s given a full 20 minute airing tonight. The power of the song is astonishing, the sound at its peak of crushing guitar lines, ferocious strings and pounding drums fills the entire hall, every nook and cranny, every strand of the assembled crowd’s DNA filled with the joy of GSY!BE at their very best. I’m sat upstairs and glance down from the mesmerising ensemble on stage to look at the standing masses, and to a man every single one of them are nodding heavily (although not quite a headband) perfectly in time, creating waves of motion across the floor.

After another new song, GSY!BE start playing their new album in full. Being 40 mins long, it’s a relatively brief GSY!BE album, but when you consider that it’s all pretty much one song split into suites, it makes more sense. They have been playing this live for a while now apparently, with the afore mentioned super fans referring to the whole thing as ‘Behemoth’ due to its size and power, and here it is no less enormous. From ‘Peasantry’ or Light! Inside of Light!’ to the final glorious flourish of ‘Piss Crowns Are Trebled’ (amazing song titles), the band are a study of concentrated activity, somehow all looking like they are playing different songs but somehow all coming together in perfect time. I honestly have no idea how, over a 15 minute song, they all keep track of each other and end up in the same place, and I don’t want to know, they all look lost in the wonderous cacophony of noise they are creating.

When ‘Piss Crowns’ comes to an end I’m breathless, astonished by the power and glory of what I’ve just witnessed. If GSY!BE go on hiatus again anytime soon, at least I can say I was here when then played with such might that the whole place shook with their incredible noise. But I hope they don’t; everyone should make an effort to see them as soon as possible, we don’t know what we’ve got ’til it’s gone, and we should be so grateful that they are still in business and on this kind of form.

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