Into the Pit: 152: Godspeed You! Black Emperor – Live at Kentish Town – 05-November 2012

There are not many bands – particularly after fifteen years in and out of the public eye – that are able to generate the sheer level of mystique and reverence that GY!BE have managed. But then – and yes, it is a cliche nowadays, but one perhaps worth repeating – GY!BE are not your average band.

Godspeed You! Black Emperor
Live @ The Forum, London NW5
05 November 2012

Not only their musical output – just five releases over fifteen years, comprising seventeen (or nineteen, depending on how you look at it) tracks resulting in five-and-a-half-hours of music, needless to say of what are usually exceptionally long tracks – but in how their songs are more orchestral compositions in structure, wordless but explicitly political, and their habit, when they give the odd rare interview, of answering as a group rather than as one.

So seeing them live, after years of waiting, was maybe not your average gig, either. Having travelled a fair distance over the day to ensure I was at the gig in time, I missed the support act, but to be fair it wasn’t them I was there for. However I was there in good time for the headliners, in a rare trip upstairs at the Forum, and I managed to bag a good spot standing up in the gods, with a great view of the whole stage (although to be fair, opera glasses might not have gone amiss if I wanted to see anything in great detail).

But really, there wasn’t a lot to watch, aside from what was on the screen. The stage was set-up almost like a studio, the band surrounded by their monitors and equipment, with no emphasis on one member or another, and apparently no problem with some band members not facing the audience whatsoever. This seemed to suit the image GY!BE have. Their arrival onstage is preceded by an ominous hum of noise, that got louder as they arrived onstage, and with the various normal-looking members of the band simply coming onstage, picking up their instruments, and away we went.

And that droning continued for some considerable time, as Hope Drone set the stall for a lengthy set, almost lulling us into a false sense of security, before Mladic bore down on the venue in an epic, twenty minute torrent of build and release fury. This was GY!BE being as metal and as heavy as they will ever get, and it was even more exhilarating that hearing it on CD for the first time, as the music built, and built, and built, before exploding into that truly epic mid-section that is like waves crashing around your head. Twenty minutes, frankly, felt too short.

I was surprised to hear Moya, which felt delicate and soothing in the aftermath of Mladic, but that was probably a good thing – especially with what followed. The opening moments of the appropriately titled – and appropriately long, at approaching forty-five minutes (!) – Behemoth was dominated by a pounding, relentless slow rhythm, not unlike a funeral march in slow motion and perhaps something that might be more expected at a doom metal show. And this long, heavy march eventually ran out of steam, into a droning mid-section, before rousing back into life again for crescendo after crescendo of crashing guitars.

The biggest surprise of the evening for me, though, came as the unmistakeable vocal samples heralding BBF3 filtered through the room, building as it does slowly, but gradually to a thunderous climax that was pretty much the perfect ending to an extraordinary evening.

Two hours of enthralling live music that was proof positive that there is not always a need for vocals, for rock-star wankery, instead a band – still – at the peak of their powers after fifteen years. A band that despite the gloomy atmospheres, and doomy, apocalyptic music, inspire.

The first words I wrote down while taking a few notes on my phone early on in the gig were:


From the wreckage of the present maybe there is hope for building anew”

And somehow, that sums up the band for me. One that document the horrors of our time and articulate some of our furies at what is done in our name – somehow – in instrumental music, but inspire and leave a sense of hope, that the future isn’t the scary place we believe it is, provided we believe in something and want to make a diffference.

Lofty goals, and it will of course take more than a band to do this. But for some, it is a starting point, a starters gun. For others already on the road, many others would like to follow and help shape that future. With a bit of luck GY!BE will continue to be the jaw-dropping soundtrack.

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