Veritas Est Rock

Paul Karner

When a group of nine nameless socialists from Montreal began taking over clubs, bars, and the occasional church, playing their 20-minute-plus soundscapes for audiences of hopeless zealots and wannabe revolutionaries, a challenge was put forth to the emotionally charged fans of underground music. These ambitious Canadians, performing under the provocative name “Godspeed You Black Emperor!,” dared listeners to take them seriously. And in a music scene filled with spastic guitars and shameless gimmicks, demanding a lot of attention from an audience is a request rarely acknowledged. But it became clear that people were willing to listen to these nine musicians, as they proved to offer something fresh and sincere.
As these musicians later fanned out to pilot other musical endeavors, some of them have managed to find some success by themselves. Tired of the lack of syllables in GYBE, three Godspeed members went on to form A Silver Mount Zion, which soon expanded to The Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra and Tra-la-la Band. They started playing in 1999 and, although under a new flag, their music has always shown a strong resemblance to their previous musical experiences.
Their newly released album, “Horses in the Sky,” boasts similar long-winded crescendos and droning orchestral arrangements, but the band seems to embrace the limitations of playing with only six members. There’s an aspect of desperation to all of the guitar work on the album, whether it is wailing distortion or delicate acoustic, that alludes to the epic Godspeed records and gives the album a familiar feel. But there is one stark difference on this album that makes the first listen a bit uneasy – the voice of frontman Efrim Menuck is present throughout most of the album.
This is only significant when taking into consideration the instrumental music of GYBE and the previous Silver Mount Zion records that defined their sound. To put it bluntly, Efrim is a terrible singer. He has a blatant disregard for singing on-key and his tone quality is similar to someone yelling for help after falling down a well. After adjusting one’s ears however, there is a clear purpose to the desperate wails of this sentimental politico.
With a 10-minute dirge version of “Oh, Canada” and a 12-minute lament of “God bless our dead marines,” the jaded anti-establishmentarian vibe comes through loud and clear, but perhaps a bit too strong. There is a thin line between epic and just plain long, and the difference lies in the details. An epic warrants close listening and rewards one’s attention with a certain depth that reveals itself throughout the piece. As much as the efforts of Efrim and the Silver Mount Zion crew are respectable, and at points rewarding to the listener, there is a consistent feeling of anticipation throughout the album that is never completely relieved. With regards to GYBE, it seems that the Silver Mount Zion apple didn’t fall far from the tree, but nevertheless landed in an awkward little puddle a couple feet away.