Article - Thee Silver Mt. Zion forged by fire

Quintet forms its own identity beyond Godspeed’s shadow

Thee Silver Mt. Zion possesses the kind of primal spirit that seems to be composed for the statues of Easter Island or a pagan Stonehenge ritual. The band’s sound is alternately clamorous and tender, an epic symphony of swelling and receding disquietude fringed with moments of sublime beauty. That majestic sweep owes a debt to predecessor group and instrumental icon Godspeed You! Black Emperor, which featured three future Thee Silver Mt. Zion members before going on hiatus.

Originally a side project, the Montreal quintet offered a more casual process than the “difficult democracy” of Godspeed, according to frontman Efrim Menuck. It soon evolved to include vocals, filling a void he’d experienced with Godspeed. “There is no stage banter, no sort of personalization to the music, which is a lovely thing about Godspeed,” says Menuck. “But there are definitely moments touring with Godspeed where it seemed what we needed was some sort of human voice interjected into that.”

Into its 12th year and supporting its seventh album, Kollaps Tradixionales, Thee Silver Mt. Zion has carved out its own niche. While still somewhat overshadowed by its forbearer, the quintet has grown into a musical powerhouse that seamlessly blends sinew and subtlety across experimental arrangements that frequently exceed 12 minutes in length. The latest was forged in the wake of the global economic collapse, fueling its dystopic anguish.

“It seemed like there was this huge disconnect between what’s going on and what the media as a whole were presenting,” says Menuck. “We knew the album – not in a grandiose way or a capital letters sort of way, but in a subtle, humble way – was going to be informed by that.”

While working on the album, the members also worked on Vic Chesnutt’s last release, At the Cut, following up their 2007 collaboration, North Star Deserter. In the interim, they toured with and got to know Chesnutt better, resulting in an even tighter, more assured second effort. Despite the album’s moribund lyrical tone, Menuck was as befuddled as anyone by Chesnutt’s suicide.

“I still don’t have words,” Menuck confesses. “I can’t illuminate what Vic’s thought process was leading up to that. It’s just, you know, heartbreaking.”