Godspeed You! Black Emperor formed in 1994 in Montreal by guitarists Efrim Menuck and Mike Moya and bassist Mauro Pezzente. The trio took their name from Mitsuo Yanagimachi’s documentary on the Japanese biker gang The Black Emperors, God Speed You! Black Emperor. The group performed live on a few occasions before self releasing their first effot, All the Lights Fucked on the Hairy Amp Drooling, on cassette limited to thirty-three copies. After the release of the cassette, the band’s lineup grew and grew and even reached the point of having fifteen members prior to recording their debut album for Constellation.
Godspeed eventually trimmed their members down to an even ten and began work on their next full length at the now Hotel2Tango. The material dated back to 1993 was culminated into two tracks both twenty minutes in length. These two tracks would come together in Godspeed’s debut album F# A# Infinity, which turns sixteen years old today. After its release, the band became interested in touring the United States. This prompted the band to send a copy of their album to Chicago record label Kranky. Kranky was definitely intrigued by the band’s sound and offered to republish the record on CD. The band returned to the studio and rerecorded the album, which in turn gave the CD version of the album a total of three tracks this time around. F# A# Infinity was critically lauded, often labeled as “innovated”. The album’s cinematic, apocalyptic sound even sounds fresh and exciting today as it did back in 1997.
Godspeed gained further recognition and praise for their bold 2000 album, Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antenna’s to Heaven. The album was dual disc affair, each containing two tracks at least twenty minutes in length and divided into movements. The lengthy sophomore effort would end up on many music critic’s year end lists that year. But the band did not slow down for in November of 2002 they released the expansive Yanqui U.X.O. The album lacked previous efforts’ field recordings and movements, which prompted the band to call the album “just raw, angry, dissonant, epic instrumental rock”. Reception among critics was divided but was still well received by fans. The band’s increasing political nature, especially on this record, lead to them being mistaken for terrorists during a tour through the United States. The band stopped for fuel at an Oklahoma gas station and, after seeing the band’s collection of anti-government propaganda, a station attendant phoned the police. Godspeed was held until they could be questioned by the FBI but were released after background check’s were run. During the same year, not long after Yanqui U.X.O.‘s publication, Godspeed announced they were going on an indefinite hiatus so the members could pursue other interests.
Godspeed remained silent up until 2010 when the band reformed to play UK’s All Tomorrow’s Parties festival that year as well as tour North America and Europe. On October 1st, 2012, the band silently released their new full length album at a show in Boston, Massachusetts. Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend! showed the band truly returning to their former greatness and even surpassing themselves in ways. The album was intricate, expansive and epic to say the least. It was as if Godspeed had never even left. Alleujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend! also became the band’s first charted release in their existence.
While the band didn’t have any charted releases until Allelujah!, they have garnered a massive cult following. Godspeed’s music is impressive and astonishing and take the “post-rock” label to a whole new level. Godspeed’s compositions are full of depth and raw emotion that are drawn out by the extensive instrumentation and layers of complexity the band uses. They create destructive passages that are meant for the end of the world. It’s a melancholic beauty if you will. The songs can be gorgeous, intense, sad and terrifying, sometimes within the same song. There are few bands that can create such intense songs without resulting to musical cliches. Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s music is simply amazing.