Godspeed You! Black Emperor – ‘G_d’s Pee AT STATE’S END’ Album Review

The experience of G_d’s Pee AT STATE’S END is best set with a passage of the statement from the press release of the album:

this record is about all of us waiting for the end.
all current forms of governance are failed.
this record is about all of us waiting for the beginning,
and is informed by the following demands=
empty the prisons
take power from the police and give it to the neighbourhoods that they terrorise.
end the forever wars and all other forms of imperialism.
tax the rich until they’re impoverished.

much love to all the other lost and lovely ones,
these are death-times and our side has to win.
we’ll see you on the road once the numbers fall.

xoxoxox god’s pee
montreal, quebec, kanada
1 march, 2021

…and so it begins.

Album cover by William Schmiechen

The narrative as displayed above is a powerful one – to be expected of a band like Godspeed You! Black Emperor. They are no stranger to politik, and choose to use their music as a platform for their beliefs. This is something that has always added to the integrity of the group for me. I can always trust in their releases to have an honest display of the grind of everyday radical life. It may not be radical in the way you initially believe, but I urge you to consider that mere existence in this world as an impoverished person, a person of color, a queer person, a neurodivergent person, or anyone not born into extreme wealth, is radical. It is a sonic document of the experience we have as people struggling for a greater good when outweighed by a concentrated evil.

To preface the album’s release, a performance was held in Montréal’s Cinema Imperial before no live audience. This was advertised as STATE’S END BRODKAST to fans. Taking place Saturday, March 27th at 6pm EST, this was a preview of the album backed by hand picked 16mm film spanning the band’s career. From the very beginning it felt tangibly melancholy. Tired, swelling with energy as it begins to rise before a pause. A breath, a gasp, an implication of the beginning of movement. The presence of hope and uplifting energy are immediate and raging through the listener like a river, even the film choices include newspaper article clippings urging people not to give up. It washes across you, it feels like relief, and elation. Camaraderie. Unity. Promptly, reaching an apex, it begins to turn.
Visually, you see the film used in past live performances begin melting, held in the light for too long, and as it burns you understand. Nothing we know is the same. Or rather, is precisely the same and thus needs to be destroyed. It fully rises and now begins its fall. It settles back into the comfort of that deep-seated sadness, settles into the futility. It shows the havoc caused by neglect of the state. Broadcasts the suffering we’ve all come to know, come to numb ourselves to. A cyclical haze of understanding the world around us is crumbling and the feeling of inability to make a difference in it.
What comes at the state’s end? What comes from the collapse? It ponders and pushes, realizes and relays that a battle has been lost, but only in one regard. We may have messed this one up and this loss is ours to bear. However, another battle is merely beginning.

Screenshot of melting 16mm film from STATE’S END BRODKAST

The album itself takes on a slightly different tone without the accompanying film, almost in the sense of the second side of a coin. It begins with opening track A Military Alphabet (five eyes all blind) (4521.0kHz 6730.0kHz 4109.09kHz) / Job’s Lament / First of the Last Glaciers / where we break how we shine (ROCKETS FOR MARY). It’s one of the more sinister opening tones of a Godspeed record, I believe. Static buzzing, lost discussion pieces and actual military alphabet pieces coming through in broken fragments, fuzzing in and out between frequencies. It feels as if it is something we should be listening to, whether through right, curiosity, or dire need. As it progresses into the further movements you begin to feel the weight at hand – a task. A journey, perhaps.
Crunchy, feedback-enticing guitar tones tell of an arduous path – a warning. It widens and widens into a sprawl. It is expansive, enveloping. It feels like a stocktaking of all signs of the times. What we have, what we’ve lost, where we’re headed, and what’s in front of us. The analytical phase before repair, picking everything apart or pulling everything from the walls to see it before reorganization. The end is near and the thought is harrowing.

The first sight past the field opening is destruction. Fire at Static Valley comes in. A flattening of all. Fire is uncaring, unmerciful, unceasing. It is roaring, growing, powerful and only increasing in strength. It feels like the sound of blood rushing through your ears as you are running for safety. The small spikes of feedback feel like beads of sweat running down your spine. As you escape it is only blooming behind you, the heat pressing against you as you watch. Then, as soon as you’ve accepted it to yourself it dissipates. Dimming as it flutters out in a graceful bow, dispersing as softly as a breeze across your forehead in the summer.

Photo by Yannick Grandmont (2010)

“GOVERNMENT CAME” (9980.0kHz 3617.1kHz 4521.0 kHz) / Cliffs Gaze / cliffs’ gaze at empty waters’ rise / ASHES TO SEA or NEARER TO THEE brings on the wake. After fire, what is there? Nothingness. It is barren. A desolate, bleak wasteland lies at your feet – gaping mouths in the soil gasping for relief. The scorched earth we’ve got. The one we have created, and put so much toxic effort into crafting. The reflection of watching a planet being forced to death, held to the coals until it could not hold, and then being blamed for its weakness. As the jagged teeth of canyons spread before you, the lifeless water at the base is lapping at the walls. A gray wash over the rock; salt, ash, and decay sweeping back around the curves and out into the distance.
It is developing inside of you as the pings of signals flash through your speakers. The sound ebbing and flowing and mingling with stringed feedback has the same quality as looking at a horizon, flooded with potential as it wraps around a large earth. The sound of bells rings in the distance, distorted and echoing, crumbling with each wave. A sense of defeat sets, a sense of drive rises.

Determination blooms. It opens into resolve. It feels like the final plea for a future to come. OUR SIDE HAS TO WIN (for D.H.) is a statement about camaraderie, alliance, and revolt. It is motivating, moving, and one of the most emotionally prescient tracks in their discography. It is definitely one of their best closers to date as well. There starts a gradual build, sobering. Following up the intense victorious swell of the end of the last song, we have a future to contemplate. A long, difficult, dangerous future. There is an inherent heft to this track. It feels as if it is internally acknowledged that it could be any of their last for a plethora of reasons. A testament to time and life’s preciousness, and how we’ve been spitting in the face of that magnificence for our entire history as a species. A regretful presentation of the ever more persistent question: who will inherit the scorched earth? and the understanding that it has to be us.

Insert artwork by William Schmiechen

The recording and mixing was done by Jace Lasek at Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s home studio, thee mighty hotel2tango with mastering done by Harris Newman at Greymarket and is truly immersive in its sound. It was Lasek’s first time working with the band and he brings a steady hand to the work. The illustrations used for the artwork were done by William Schmiechen. Intentionally inclusive of different visual motifs from the history of the band, their anarcho-punk ideals woven into the drawings to be reminiscent of their earlier years. The grainy, monochrome photographs included in the layout are meant to tie in to their more recent output’s artwork.  It maintains a heavy atmosphere, even when comparing it to their other outputs which have a similar density. It feels immediate, a pressing attempt at public consciousness. Most of all, though, it feels like a true climax of Godspeed’s career from the artwork to the songs, and is a must listen for original fans and newcomers alike.

G_d’s Pee AT STATE’S END is out this Friday, April 2nd on Constellation Records.
You may pre-order the 180g LP + 10″ vinyl edition of the record through an independent record store here
You may pre-order digital copies and CDs via Constellation Records here
You can find it on the band’s bandcamp here

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