Author’s note for AT STATE’S END review: thoughts are taken from the Bandcamp release, with tracks not divided by each orchestral movement. As such, album title, track titles, and band name have been abbreviated for the sake of laziness and readability.
In Tim O’Brien’s seminal collection of Vietnam war fiction, The Things They Carried, the narrator utters an immortal line: “Stories can save us.” When we last saw Godspeed, behind Luciferian Towers, it seemed like they were filling the air with the sound it needed to clear a Donald Trump-ruled landscape. They are a band that tends to drop out of the sky at the kind of points in time where it would not hurt to be able to hit Play and have a song save us. Defiant as they are of everything they can be — time signatures, conventional pace (even for post-rock) — it’s not even a stretch, with their many side-projects and flights of fancy, to wonder if Godspeed, after that one hiatus, are even still a cohesive band. Defiant as they are of these overtures, they will still drop out of the sky at just the right time and give us something like AT STATE’S END.
AT STATE’S END asks us, through sound, to comprehend the post-COVID era in advance. In the press release / mission statement for the album, the collective wrote that “this record is about all of us waiting for the end.” You can take this to mean the end-times of war-scorched Earth, or of all human beings (at least the ones that choose to do so) taking their masks off and seeing each other smile for the first time in these stretched plague hours. Each track features Godspeed’s trademarks in strong volume; it is hard to review any Godspeed album track-by-track, but to review AT STATE’S END in that way is nearly impossible. They return to their use of shortwave radios and heady demands:
“empty the prisons
take power from the police and give it to the neighbourhoods that they terrorise.
end the forever wars and all other forms of imperialism.
tax the rich until they’re impoverished.” — from the press release preceding the release of AT STATE’S END
Everything from that press release, to the shortwaves, to the deliberate and almost pulse-pounding pace of the record is trademark Godspeed, and almost seems unachievable this late in the band’s twenty-plus year career (time off included). With everything the band has gone through — lineup changes, metamorphoses small and large, producer switch-ups — it seems like AT STATE’S END has much working against it. For a lesser band, it might. But this is Godspeed You! Black Emperor. They are not just a band, but a collective, bent on destroying expectations, creating a completely unique and idiosyncratic sound, not even once attempted on duplication by denizens of a sub-genre they helped to innovate and give a name to.
AT STATE’S END could be a simple resting-on-the-laurels, or a nothing record, tossed out to do a little nothing. These sorts of accusations were leveled at Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress, as well as Luciferian Towers, but AT STATE’S END finds itself impervious: this is a late-career masterpiece, a deep-dive into the Self of a band, and a remembrance of the invention of the wheel.
These times will pass us by. Godspeed You! Black Emperor will not.