The only justifiable excuse for a 10-year gap in output from Godspeed You! Black Emperor would be the release of a 10-years-long Godspeed You! Black Emperor song. Sadly, the lengthiest track on ’Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend! lasts a paltry 20 minutes. Not that the instrumental post-rock ensemble is slacking on its first full-length since 2002’s Yanqui U.X.O. Indeed, ’Allelujah! picks up more or less where Yanqui left off—that is to say, somewhere in the midst of a metaphysical meltdown, one meant to provide raw material for the reconstruction of reality. Orchestral yet chaotic, GY!BE has never been shy about its revolutionary aims, nor its droning, collectivist approach to music-making. But where previous releases have seen the Canadian outfit reach toward a clarity of emotion and execution, ’Allelujah! sounds muddy and muffled in its messaging.
There’s no shortage of majesty, though. “Mladic”—the first of two epic-length tracks that compose the core of ’Allelujah!—is far heavier and more forceful than anything the band has released since 2000’s Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas To Heaven. But where that album made optimal use of GY!BE’s compositional sprawl, “Mladic” squanders its steam. As a Hawkwind-esque incantation dissolves into discord, freak-out, and breakdown, the atmosphere congeals into something impenetrable. An Eastern-scaled snarl of guitar is washed out rather than amplified by the surrounding static. The recording itself doesn’t help: Distorted to the point of incoherence, some of the subtler instrumentation is swallowed up in the maelstrom. The sheer power of the track is stunning, but a relative lack of dynamic keeps it from fully taking flight.
The disc’s other central track, “We Drift Like Worried Fire,” soars higher. Like “Mladic,” the song has been in GY!BE’s live repertoire for a while; here it sounds more careful and composed. Originally known as “Gamelan”—which makes sense, considering its off-kilter tick-tock of pizzicato strings and chiming percussion—the song eases into an upward-spiraling crescendo rather than a pulverizing monotone. When the bass drifts out of modal hypnosis and into intricate chord changes, the hymn turns melancholy. Tendrils of dissonance underpin a seesawing pulse. And the song’s symphonic, cinematic coda sails out of a blaze of epic riffage. There’s no shortage of force and noise, but it’s set off in discreet detonations—all suffused with an eerie, cosmic beauty.
If the rest of ’Allelujah! were as strong as “Mladic” and “We Drift”—despite their occasional flaws—the album might rank among the band’s best. Instead, the disc is padded with two shorter pieces that serve as ambient interludes only. Recorded by the ensemble’s core quartet rather then its full roster, “Their Helicopters’ Sing” and “Strung Like Lights At Thee Printemps Erable” seem more like abstract, flat-line remixes of the longer tracks. GY!BE has always used such interludes well, but here it reeks of filler. That doesn’t detract from the alternating bombast and delicacy of ’Allelujah!, but it does make the album feel more like a prelude to a comeback than a full-on renaissance.