Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra at Lincoln Hall / by Doyle Armbrust

“Those Marines knew what they had coming,” an inebriated fan shouted, interrupting Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra’s otherwise stellar Logan Square Auditorium set in 2008, the last time the group made its way down from Montreal. Singer-guitarist Efrim Menuck’s sometimes anarchic worldview might inadvertently invite such outbursts, but the Mt. Zion cofounder immediately shut down the request for “God Bless Our Dead Marines.”

Born from the experimental, atmospheric chamber-rock bleakness of Godspeed You! Black Emperor and retaining three of its original members (Menuck, contrabassist Thierry Amar and violinist Sophie Trudeau), the band keeps politics at the center of its lyrics. But unlike the Auditorium’s heckler, radical self-righteousness is mercifully absent.

For the new full-length, Kollaps Tradixionales, the desolate, darkening tangle begins with a glimmer of rebellious promise in the opener, “There Is a Light.” Menuck wails, “We’ve been denied too much hope in our lives / Let tonight be the night when it ends,” as violins and guitar fuzz rise beneath him. By “Kollaps Tradicional (Bury 3 Dynamos),” forlorn lines such as “There is no dream that sings anymore” float over the distorted, “Scarborough Fair”–ish folk melodies.

Since 2000’s He Has Left Us Alone but Shafts of Light Sometimes Grace the Corner of Our Rooms, found recordings, de-tuned piano and strings have been relegated to a supporting role, and guitars have begun to concentrate TSMZ’s sound into something decidedly more rock-oriented. The band’s earlier work may be more convincingly barren and compelling on headphones, but the recent output engages audiences better in a live setting. However, all soapboxes will be checked at the door.

- Doyle Armbrust

published in Time Out Chicago on May 19th, 2010