Thee Silver Mt. Zion Orchestra has got it rough. The Canadian outfit is best known as a splinter group from Constellation Records’ presumed defunct post-rock flagship, Godspeed You! Black Emperor. Godspeed’s venerable legacy is both a blessing and a curse for Silver Mt. Zion. If it weren’t for Godspeed, none of its tributaries would be as successful as they are. Much of Godspeed’s fanbase followed Efrim Menuck and company into this, their next musical endeavor. Conversely speaking, Godspeed is also a ball and chain, a high watermark by which all its members’ future work will be judged. In that regard, Kollaps Tradixionales and its punk-and-blues infused bluster reveals a band struggling to come into its own.
Kollaps Tradixionales is a continuation in sound and style along the course the band plotted on 2008’s 13 Blues for Thirteen Moons. Like 13 Blues, Kollaps‘s major compositional elements are Menuck’s effects-laden guitar and adenoidal howl, which bears a striking resemblance to that of Fugazi’s Guy Picciotto; Sophie Trudeau and Jessica Moss’s atmospheric strings; and songs nearly as long as your average television sitcom. Kollaps, too, is made up of four lengthy pieces, two of which are broken up into multi-part suites. This ballast is as much a part of Silver Mt. Zion’s legacy as musicians (Godspeed’s legendary double-disc Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas To Heaven contained four 20-minute epics, and most recent Silver Mt. Zion records follow suit) as it is the major problem with their work. Simply put, some of the songs collapse under their own enormity.
Kollaps begins with the stately hymn-like “There Is a Light,” which uses the first eight of its 15 minutes building to a moody climax, only to crash back into the muted tones of its opening moments. It’s a dirty trick, leading listeners toward a payoff not worth the weight of the climb. The plodding punky “I Built Myself a Metal Bird” follows, doing away with the structure of the first song entirely. It opens with a steady straight-forward rock riff and rams it home for six intense minutes, with Menuck caught up in the moment, screaming, “Dance, motherfucker!” like a man possessed. The problems with this composition start when “I Built Myself a Metal Bird” ends and “I Fed My Metal Bird the Wings of Other Metal Birds” plays out. The vibrant first half of “Metal Bird” works great on its own. Did we need a pit of soupy, formless meandering and a sweaty reprise tacked onto the end of it? The second half of the composition drags the album down considerably.
The remainder of Kollaps runs more smoothly. The title track pulls off the multi-part suite bit with panache. The first part, “Kollapz Tradicional (Thee Olde Dirty Flag),” is reminiscent of Godspeed’s “9-15-00.” Both tracks float in on tremolo strings and mournful guitar. “Kollapz” cuts out at its apex to make way for “Collapse Traditional (For Darling),” a short and elegant ballad. “Kollaps Tradicional (Bury 3 Dynamos)” picks up where the first part left off, finally whipping up the angular guitar frenzy the last two tracks presaged. “‘Piphany Rambler” closes the album by perfecting the patient, side-long blues the band tried earlier on “There Is a Light.” “‘Piphany Rambler” moves where “There Is a Light” wandered, and when the song finally reaches its climax, it feels hard fought. It fades out slowly, leaving listeners with a sense of relief and release.
It may all come down to this: The members of Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra take themselves too seriously. The bizarre band name changes that grace each album are proof of this, as is their commitment to these gargantuan, intricately structured songs. Maybe that formula is getting a little stale — not every composition needs 15 minutes to unfold, and not every composition can hold listeners for 15 minutes.
These guys perfected the epic-crescendo-rock model a decade ago. They’re onto something with the blistering, bluesy, punk direction, but the sound will never gel as long as the songs keep getting stretched beyond their logical breaking points. It’s time to move on.