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Thee Silver Mt Zion Memorial Orchestra: Kollaps Tradixionales (Album Review)


With Godspeed You! Black Emperor seemingly no more, or at least missing presumed lost, Silver Mt Zion are now the main outlet for former GYBE main man Efrim Menuck.
Kollaps Tradixionales is the band’s sixth album, and the first under this variation of their name. It’s also the first recorded outing of this particular line up, with the band having had something of a re-staffing over the last year or two.

Regardless of the personnel tweaking, this is still obviously a SMZ record, and unmistakably so. Kollaps Tradixionales might be a slight step in a different direction, but with Efrim Menuck at the heart of it things were never going to be wildly different. But new drummer David Payant has added a more steely resolve when needed, and despite Efrim being the sole guitarist currently, Kollaps… contains some of the heaviest guitar moments from the band so far.

There Is A Light opens the album in typically epic fashion. Clocking in at around 15 minutes, it is not so much a song as a musical journey. A plaintive guitar rings out, drenched in reverb before long it’s joined by some emotional vocals from Efrim. Elements of blues and folk provide the backdrop for a story about a boy who lost his thunder.

As the song begins to grow, piling on strings, sturdy bass figures and increasing distortion, the emotional punch hits harder and heavier. The song cycles through changes frequently, though not rapidly. As it evolves it explores the blues, delights in orchestral waltzes, flirts with the pure heart of colliery brass bands, and indulges in rock pomposity. Stunning doesn’t adequately describe the heights hit here.

I Built Myself a Metal Bird is an aggressive piece of work. It goes straight for the jugular with a sheen of abrasive guitar and driving drums, and may or may not be a nod to Sonic Youth’s Tunic (Song For Karen). It’s as close as SMZ get to a conventional rock song, but with violins circling Efrim’s vocal refrain of “Dance You Motherfuckers” like razor beaked vultures, it soars to an entirely different level of intensity.

The three-part centrepiece from which the album derives its name initially explores bleak territory, courtesy of an unrelenting funereal dirge – Kollapz Tradixtional (Thee Olde Dirty Flag) and a pretty lament in the shape of Collapse Tradixional (For Darling). It concludes with the shrill guitars of Bury 3 Dynamos being overwhelmed by a thundering surge of drums and bass. It hums with a grandeur that practically commands a salute. Although the vocals initially take the form of a hymn or a prayer, it’s not long before the fists start shaking and a musical revolt erupts.

The glorious ‘Piphany Rambler closes the album in a similar epic manner in which it began. While not as immediate as There Is A Light, it is easily its equal in terms of orchestration and beauty. The combinations of strings, vocal harmonies and roaring guitars aim for something approaching the spiritual and achieve it with awe inspiring audacity. It’s up there with the finest SMZ compostions.

Kollaps Tradixionales is an outstanding album that competes with anything the band has done previously under its various monikers. It’s early in the year to be predicting albums of 2010, but this will surely be up there.