A twisting, contemplative sound snakes its way through your ears, ripe to be dissected by a careful listener, but just as readily able to be listened to purely as an immediate experience.
Almost 25 years since “F# A# Infinity,” post-rock drone collective Godspeed You! Black Emperor is a meditative experience – a mix of noise, guitar, and vocals twists around, formulating a deceptively precise and metered adaptation of rock's inconsistent sounds.
Each sound, each shift, each near-incoherent sample feels entirely natural within the context – a context that's almost indescribable, feeling just as much like an intercepted extraterrestrial transmission as the echoes of a dank basement venue. It encapsulates the background noise of life – ambient, harsh and often-ignored.
And through this, "AT STATE'S END!" is a reflection of the world around us, not in its idealized form but in its reality. It is messy; it is grimy; but it ultimately all fits together.
Vastly disparate sounds meld with the familiar. The mainstay guitar and bass of rock music creates an experience that is both slow and iterative, such as in “Job's Lament,” and entirely foreign, like its preceding track “Military Alphabet.” But the album never loses its consistently austere vision – a vision which is intensely critical of the world we live in.
Basking in this austerity, “First of the Last Glaciers” transforms seamlessly from “Job's Lament,” adding structure and coherence to the opening track's established foundation and creating the first narrative venture. Integrating unsettlingly-calm strings into the presently slow and harsh sound, the track builds up patterns before disrupting them in the transition to “where we break how we shine,” an abstract and dystopic field-recording interlude.
Closing “Fire at Static Valley,” a bout in dark ambient reminiscent of Tangerine Dream's early works, is “GOVERNMENT CAME,” the album's longest track. In it, a dark precision is blended with voices as an accompanying ambience.
As the somber track evolves, strings and guitar work together to create a melancholy that is also deeply spiritual. Raw emotion is channeled through the instruments not only as a representation, but as an active engagement between the artists and their music.
Transitioning to “Cliffs Gaze,” the echoing melancholy transforms into something more powerful, yet notably off-key, as strings guide the guitars and the track's composition becomes notably orchestral. In many ways, the mixing of these elements feels satirical, as an over-the-top response to the rest of the album's harsh and melancholic atmosphere.
As the track closes, the instrumentation is overcome by the ringing of bells, which at first feels appropriate, but soon turns overpowering. This is a clear allusion to the state-critical themes of the album.
As “OUR SIDE HAS TO WIN” concludes the album, its themes become clear – a critique of politics, governmental systems and the blind hyper-partisanism of modern conflict.
As the album concludes, strings build up, as if to say, “This is how things are, and we could have stopped it. But now all we can do is watch.”
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Altogether, “AT STATE'S END” encapsulates the certainty of uncertainty. It is a representation of our collective state of unease. It feels much like the twist in your gut when the world feels incredibly wrong. To hear that in music is cathartic in many ways, especially when it’s told with so few words.
Godspeed You! Black Emperor relies on sound alone to communicate. While words may have some place in the album, they do not find themselves as the central figure. Instead, words function as an incidental bystander.
The album is raw and human. It's an encapsulation of the imprecise nature of the world, and the deep unease that can feel ever-present as long as we choose to not look away. It is unnatural, yet it feels as if there must be some machination to make it feel planned. It's why, even with that unease, we choose not to look away.