Classic Review – Slow Riot For New Zero Kanada / Godspeed You! Black Emperor

Preceding Godspeed’s arguably best album: Lift Yr Skinny Fists Like Antennas To Heaven, is the best EP ever made. Slow Riot For Zero Kanada packs in more emotion and complexity than a lot of bands can produce in a full length album – how? Clocking in at 28 minutes, it is by no means a short release, but one that demands attention and should be considered amongst Godspeed’s finest work. By this point in their career, Godspeed had established themselves as the flagbearers of ‘post-rock’ with their no-vocal delivery and long, slow crescendo build-ups by releasing their first album F♯ A♯ ∞. By no means a bad album, F… had its moments, but lacked the tightness of Slow Riot… or their next full-length, Lift…, which would extend into four songs of roughly 20 minutes each. Here, on Slow Riot…, there are two songs, but are equally as powerful and as gut-wrenching as each other. This is the perfect entry point to Godspeed.

‘Moya’ concentrates the best moments of Godspeed into a digestible ten-minute goosebumps-inducer. Unlike ‘Blaise Bailey Finnegan III’, it contains no ‘field recordings’; Godspeed’s vocal contributions come in the form of recordings of voices and noises. ‘Moya’ sticks to chilling orchestration typical of Godspeed, plus throbbing and grinding sounds that sound like engines whirring and a guttural guitar that cuts through the misty ambient instrumentation. It takes a dramatic change after 3:30, where the guitar enters finally and begins strumming a ghostly collection of strings with the glockenspiel being pushed to its frankly restricted limitations. The guitars groan on, building layer on layer, pushing to heights that can’t seemingly get any higher, but they do it. The song changes yet again at 7:45, the timing ramps up into a spaghetti western-style romp and this is where it tends to go a bit emotional. The drums kick in, building everything up into a crescendo that mounts at 8:30, where the guitar takes centre stage alongside the glockenspiel, both working in perfect harmony. ‘Moya’ is one of Godspeed’s best songs and is a testament to how quickly they can pull off an emotional climax, whereas on later releases it would take at least one song to get the tears flooding.

‘Blaise Bailey Finnegan III’ is a much more traditional Godspeed affair, where it takes a recording of an interview of a poet, who complains that ‘the government, they’re sneaky, they’re deceitful’ and when the interviewer asks him ‘are you ready for what’s coming?’ he replies ‘There’s a little saying… Be prepared for anything at any time from anybody, don’t take no shit, always stand your ground. People wanna come up to me and run their mouth. Guess what? I’ll throw them through the fucking window. I won’t think a thing of it.’. Only when it is brought into context is that it is revealed that Blaise later recites a song by Iron Maiden, passing it off as his own poem. Godspeed use Blaise, who often replies with accurate descriptions of America, to expose the exposers. Despite the lack of vocals, Godspeed have been very ‘vocal’ about their politics – such as the ingredients to make a molotov cocktail on the back of Slow Riot… Meanwhile, the instrumentation of the song itself is a familiar retread of comforting Godspeed territory – tribal drumbeats, layers of building guitars and a purposefully wonky and erratic orchestra doing their best to compete with the other instruments. In the end, the instruments clash together in the most spectacular way. Nothing becomes out of place, everything just works. Unlike ‘Moya’, when it seems everything will explode, Godspeed withdraw and reduce the track to Blaise’s recording again and a ghostly piano. Once again, after the recording, the instruments return to fill the gap. However, this time, it seemingly wants to explode. Marching drums come forward, a screeching guitar squeals out and the orchestra wails on. ‘Blaise Bailey Finnegan III’ cements the lasting influence of Godspeed, from the ambient orchestral endings to the field recordings.

Slow Riot… was by no means a complete look at Godspeed, they would later perfect their technique and keep going on hiatus before returning to release some of their best songs. However, like most Godspeed releases, it needs to be brought into context. A lot of clues are given away in the actual packaging of the record, from its bible-referencing hebrew in the cover art, to the molotov cocktail recipe. Godspeed carry a lot of political undertones, but they can best be appreciated for their attention to detail in the instrumentation. The ambient noises make up a lot of the more sinister moods on Slow Riot…, but the drums, orchestra and guitar are the key points of Godspeed. On this EP, the timing restraints helped Godspeed craft refined moments in short spaces of time, which would influence later work. Slow Riot… proves the worth and emotion of an EP, not just as a sample of the next record, but something to be considered and consumed as its own being.

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