A Look at the Pre-Reformation Godspeed You! Black Emperor Material

Godspeed You! Black Emperor in their current incarnation is a 10 piece Canadian band headed by the multi-instrumentalist Efrim Menuck, and they have drastically influenced the modern sound of the eclectic genre known as post-rock. The three albums that the band released in the period of the time before their breakup are masterworks of patience and atmosphere with every minute of each song used to its full potential. 

Their first official album, titled F# A# Infinity, came out in 1997 and is my personal favorite release from the group. It features three expansive songs that amount to a total runtime of 63 minutes, all of which feature the band’s trademark climactic format of song structure. These pieces all utilize sampling to a far heavier degree than their subsequent output, as every song has slow, dark ambient inspired moments with ominous interludes of people talking about the state of the world or other various cryptic voice samples. These allow the music to exist in its own universe while still being able to make political statements about the world that we occupy, even though these statements end up being quite vague because of the instrumental nature of the music.

Disregarding an ep that the group released in 1998 (although that is a fantastic project in its own right), the next album by Godspeed was Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven. This album is their most well known and operates as a more polished, produced, and focused version of the previous record. It’s also their longest album, sitting at 87 minutes with four tracks, and it is an incredibly dense listen. Every song is filled to the brim with emotion and massive climaxes that can often be very disorienting. Although I do think F# is the better record, LYSF offers a very satisfying experience from start to finish that expands on the blueprint formed by that album while still keeping the sound they had cultivated up to this point.

The final record released by the band before their breakup and subsequent reformation was the 2002 release Yanqui U.X.O. This one changes up the formula by ditching the vocal samples and focusing entirely on the tension and release of the previous albums. It’s significantly less emotional than their other records while also being a lot more pummeling with its atmosphere. I think this is their most out of the box release since it is a noticeable divergence in their normal song structure up to this point, which for the most part, works to the album’s benefit. Yanqui has five songs spanning 74 minutes but it doesn’t necessarily feel as long as the other albums. This is due to the lack of filler on the project, every song here despite the massive length gets straight to the point with their buildups. Yanqui U.X.O. offers a captivating atmosphere and a solid change in tact to the sound of Godspeed that stands amongst the quality of their best material.

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