In the years since they first emerged in 2000 from beneath the shadow of parent band Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Thee Silver Mt Zion Memorial Orchestra (as they currently call themselves) have undergone a radical evolution, one that I’d argue has been more significant than Godspeed’s, if that band’s tepid recent opus Allelujah! Don’t Bend Ascend is anything to go by. Fourteen years ago, the entirely instrumental He Has Left Us Alone but Shafts of Light Sometimes Grace the Corner of Our Rooms… sounded a bit like Godspeed-lite, a delicate, string-focused album of lilting, mournful chamber rock.
But 2008’s 13 Blues For Thirteen Moons was a remarkable volte-face, with de facto bandleader Efrim Menuck ditching post-rock in favour of a more direct, almost post-punk rambunctiousness that gave fresh impetus to the band’s overtly political lyrics. Traditional fans were put off, but Thee Silver Mt Zion have refused to back down, with Fuck Off Get Free their most aggressive and strident record yet.
And the band certainly flies out of the traps. The title track is one of its strongest yet, an epic, angry paean to Thee Silver Mt Zion’s home city of Montreal. Over its 10 minutes, Menuck takes vicious broadsides at the corporate greed that has ripped out the vibrant soul of the communities that live there. Guitars broil and violins swing and soar with the typical overload that characterizes post-13 Blues Silver Mt Zion, whilst a massed choir with Menuck at its core violently declaims lyrics like “While pennies pile the hoarders smile and proclaim / That what we want will never be.” Menuck sounds particularly outraged throughout, while the track ends on an elegiac note as a mass of female voices painfully repeats the words “Hold me under bright water never let us end” in a final gesture of defiance. It’s potent stuff, and it’s swiftly followed by the more rigid and ferocious 14 minutes of “Austerity Blues.” The title speaks for itself in these crappy times, but there are also choice lines, such as “Thieves and liars rule everything we know.”
Fuck Off Get Free, like most Silver Mt Zion albums, wears its heart on its sleeve. Two track titles include the word “blues,” whilst another is emphatically titled “What We Loved Was Not Enough.” The lyrical focus is dark, bordering on the apocalyptic, redolent with imagery of collapsing skies and burning cities.
At more than 50 minutes, it can get quite exhausting, although I can only admire a band that is prepared to stand up and shout “Fuck you!” at the system. Musically, this is as loud and brutal as a so-called post-rock band can get, with an energy that occasionally borders on punk, although a lot of that is offset by the omnipresent strings. As on previous releases, there’s a certain imbalance to Thee Silver Mt Zion’s musical make-up, one that undermines the album’s consistency, straining the listener’s patience and attention span. Equally, Menuck’s voice is an acquired taste to say the least, its earnest lamentation bordering dangerously on the grating. But channelled properly, as on the title track and “Austerity Blues,” the energy and attitude on Fuck Off Get Free is infectious and righteous.
Maybe we need more of that these days, to keep those skies from actually falling in.