It will be no surprise that with any mention of A Silver Mt. Zion, the words “Godspeed You Black Emperor!” won’t be too far behind. Not only do both bands share members, they both draw inspiration from the same apocalyptic musical ground, a blasted land of found sounds, doomsday radio samples, and harrowing atmospherics. But whereas Godspeed You Black Emperor! conveys their musical message in the form of epic passages that seem to draw as much influence from Ennio Morricone as they do from the Book Of Revelations, A Silver Mt. Zion takes a more intimate, less bombastic route.
With this in mind, let’s drop the Godspeed comparisons right now, because He Has Left Us Alone But Shafts Of Light Sometimes Grace The Corner Of Our Rooms…—which gets my vote for best album title of the year—has more than enough power and beauty to stand on its own.
Although the album consists of 8 tracks, it is broken into 2 movements. The first 4 tracks belong to “Lonely As The Sound Of Lying On The Ground Of An Airplane Going Down”. Beginning with an ominous delayed piano that is slowly joined by the strings, it builds to a swirling crescendo backed by guitar drones and samples of a preacher reading from the book of Daniel. However, as soon as it begins, it slowly fades away in a long downward spiral of strings and piano that gains momentum until it’s tumbling down and down uncontrollably.
The first movement culminates in “Movie (Never Made)”. In a voice that starts out slowly and shyly, but gains strength as the song continues, Efrim sings such revolutionaryisms as:
Let’s kill first the lawyer with his professional demeanor
Let’s televise and broadcast the raping of kings
Let our crowds be fed on teargas and plateglass
‘Cause a people united is a wonderful thing
The final moments of the song are defiant and victorious, as Efrim sticks it to the Man:
It’s better to never get paid
Than to bank on shit and dismay
But as opposed to sounding anarchic and political, the song carries a wistful feel similar to This Mortal Coil’s It’ll End In Tears, thanks in large part to Efrim’s broken voice and the haunting instrumentation.
The last 4 songs belong to “The World Is Sick Sick (So Kiss Me Quick)” and opens with one of the most beautiful songs you’re likely to hear all year.
“13 Angels Standing Guard ‘Round The Side Of Your Bed” is aptly named; if anything sounds like a choir of angels swirling around your bed, it’s this song. Beginning with ghostly, disembodied voices, the song starts off on an eerie note. But as the voices continue to weave in and out of eachother, they’re slowly joined by strings that raise the song to a rapturous moment of peace and tranquility that stands in sharp contrast to the darker territory the group explored earlier on.
The album closes with “For Wanda”, named after Efrim’s dog who died from cancer. Though this sounds silly and frivolous, it adds a note of poignancy to the whole album, a sense of humble loss contrasting with the apocalyptic visions of the album’s first half.
It would be far too easy, and far too criminal, to call A Silver Mt. Zion a simple “side project”. And it would be an injustice to throw this band into Godspeed’s shadow and leave it at that. He Has Left Us Alone… rails against such thought; the emotions on this album are so open, the music so stripped of pretension and bombast. Godspeed overwhelms and pummels you until you’re an emotional wreck. A Silver Mt. Zion consoles you and holds your hand.
Although much of the music is dark and foreign, it never loses site of hope and beauty, as referenced in the title. It’s as rewarding as it is demanding, as inspiring as it is challenging. This is one of the best albums of 2000. Even though the year isn’t even half over, I think we’ll all be hardpressed at year’s end to find an album quite as inspired (and inspiring) as this one.