Combat Rock

In this corner, weighing in at one ton of pomp, the pride of Iceland: Sigur Rs! And in this corner, the moose-wrestling Montreal maulers: Godspeed You! Black Emperor.

 Inscrutable band name

Godspeed You! Black Emperor: Randomly chosen by combining words in the Canadian Anarchist Collective Magnetic Poetry set. Put the exclamation point after Emperor! if you want.

Sigur Rós: Is that "sugar rose"? "Cy-grrr rahs"? Or "Seger rocks"?

Sigur Rós: What Radiohead desperately wants to 
sounds like.
Sigur Rós: What Radiohead desperately wants to sounds like.

Exotic home base

GYBE: Montreal, Canada, land of wild moose, Labatt Blue and hosers who actually care about the NHL.

SR: Iceland, land of stunning physical beauty (mountains, glacial rivers, etc.) and crazed electro-divas (Björk).

Public emergence

GYBE: In 1984, self-releasing 33 copies of a cassette titled All Lights Fucked on the Hairy Amp Drooling.

SR: Released Iceland-only Von in '97, distraught that the album title All Lights Fucked on the Hairy Amp Drooling was taken.

Brief description of sound

GYBE: Beautiful orchestral tunes with 20-minute run times and huge, monstrous climaxes designed to scare people shitless.

SR: Pink Floyd-caliber art-rock montages for grad student makeout sessions. What Radiohead desperately wants to sounds like.

Instrumentation utilized

GYBE: Three guitars, a couple basses, various drummers, violins, violas, cellos, French horns, tape loops and some dude workin' the projector.

SR: Standard art-rock guitar effects/vintage keyboards fare augmented by front man Jón Thor Birgisson's creepy, otherworldly soprano -- he sounds like a loaded karaoke bar for whales on Mariah Carey tribute night.

Cultural high-water mark

GYBE: Freak-nasty 2000 double-disc set, Lift Yr. Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven!

SR: Nearly comatose single "Svefn-G-Englar" (the "it's yoooooou" song) propelled 2001's Agaetis Byrjun to hipster stardom. Its inclusion on the soundtrack to Vanilla Sky is the only good thing about that flick.

Current endeavor

GYBE: Nightmarish, warfare-themed Yanqui U.X.O.

SR: Critic/pointyhead favorite ( ).

Degree of pretension

GYBE: Jesus, dude, it's orchestral rock, not Black Flag. Ideologically, band constantly combats age-old "We are fiercely anticapitalist but must employ capitalism to sell records and thus fund our coffee-fueled anticapitalist rants" self-loathing.

SR: Astronomical. No real album title, no song titles, no lyrics. A conceptual art-damaged mindfuck on par with Kangaroo Jack.

Wacky lyrical content

GYBE: No vocals -- just occasional tape loops. Example: "The car is on fire and there is no driver at the wheel. And the sewers are all muddied with a thousand lonely suicides…we're trapped in the belly of this horrible machine and the machine is bleeding to death…"

SR: Lyrics all sung in "Hopelandic," a made-up language consisting primarily of eeeeeeeeeeeeee's and oooooooooooo's. Most of the lyrics on ( ) sound like "you sigh," "ewes, hi" or "youse high."

Fan interaction

GYBE: Limited mainly to live show tape-trading. Hard to idolize a band when you wouldn't recognize its members if they kicked your ass on the street.

SR: The devout are encouraged to visit and supply their own lyrics to ( ), which leads to highly amusing interpretations: "Swans are cool / The fires rage / Isä ja / You will / Although things are bad / There is a hope / You say you all alone by the fire / It's on."

Somber political overtones

GYBE: Yanqui's liner notes helpfully describe the two-part 9-15-00 as "Ariel Sharon surrounded by 1,000 Israeli soldiers marching on Al-Haram Ash-Sharif and provoking another unfitted."

SR: Understated. Just a "Stop the War in Iraq!" pop-up window on the Web site.

Arty song titles

GYBE: "Motherfucker = Redeemer" (parts 1 and 2).

SR: Agaetis Byrjun includes such toe- tappers as "Flugufrelsarinn" and "Vidrar Vel Til Loftarasa."

Appropriate venue for listening

GYBE: Prison.

SR: That magical Teletubbies fairy land where the sun's, like, this baby's face.

Appropriate films to screen with sound off while CD is playing

GYBE: Blue Velvet, Strange Brew.

SR: The NeverEnding Story, Labyrinth.

Will stoners dig it?

GYBE: Not recommended. Freakish noise collages doth not coexist well with paranoia.

SR: Hell, yeah. ( ) should've been entitled Pink Side of the Moon.

Are they hot or not?

GYBE: Beats the hell out of us. Even their live concerts aren't well lit.

SR: In an "Emaciated Lumberjack" sort of way. Turn-ons include sleepy countenances and old-guy beards.

Wacked-out CD packaging

GYBE: Yanqui U.X.O.'s back cover features a diagram charting the major record companies' corporate ties to military weaponry.

SR: Towheaded angelic fetuses; washed-out photos of trees, grass.

Strange behavior during live performances

GYBE: Packing ten or so musicians on a tiny-looking stage, forcing concert reviewers to buy their own tickets (all proceeds benefit an adult literacy organization).

SR: Members lying down on stage during shows and staying there for, oh, 20 minutes.

Fucked-up videos

GYBE: MTV? Get the hell out of town.

SR: The video for track one on ( ) consists of cute kids putting on gas masks and dancing merrily around a postapocalyptic wasteland. Gnarly.

Propensity to talk trash

GYBE: "Radiohead is nothing but a bunch of hypocrites and liars. They are crazy enough to think that everything they say is taken seriously, despite the fact that they belong to a multinational."

SR: It's all about the love.

Adversarial relationship with media

GYBE: Rarely consents to press interviews and nearly always regrets doing so. After the Radiohead-slagging piece appeared in the Dutch rag OOR, Godspeed responded with an open letter referring to the interviewer as "a lost, weak, lonely man" and adding, "I felt a fair amount of misguided empathy towards you…I now regret feeling anything at all, and I wish you nothing but continued misery, loneliness, and despair."

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