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100 Years, 100 Songs: #81. Mogwai – “Mogwai Fear Satan”

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on July 30, 2007

“By far the most accurate sonic representation of the Big Bang theory in the history of music.” -Nick Mirov, Pitchfork

Sixteen minutes and thirty seconds. Three guitar chords. One sonic apocalypse.

I never understood the term “post-rock” as applied to a band like Mogwai. Sure, it makes sense for bands like Tortoise, Disco Inferno or A.R. Kane, because so much of the music those guys made legitimately sounds like it exists in a world where the standards of rock and roll are no longer a relevant consideration. But for me, at least, Mogwai represents so much of what is wonderful and beautiful about rock music–the thunderous power, the shivering emotion, and the brilliant sense of affirmation–that I can’t imagine a world in which the band and rock could not co-exist.

I’d prefer to think of Mogwai as the world’s best Christian Metal band. And obviously, I don’t mean that in the Stryper sense–the overwhelming majority of Mogwai songs are instrumental, and aside from this song’s title, I can’t think of another religious reference the band makes in their entire catalogue. But when you listen to a song like “Mogwai Fear Satan,” you can hear the sense of righteousness and the search for salvation shining through every note, and more than any band I can think of (with the possible exception, inevitably, of Rush), the band’s best songs sound like they are literally trying to combat the evil forces of the world with the power of rock & roll. Without lyrics, and with a totally straight face.

And for the most part, it works. Listening to the ascending three-chord riff of “Mogwai Fear Satan,” the chugging subtly harmonizing bass, and the waves upon waves of crashing drums, all of which are repeated hundreds of times throughout the course of the song, you are filled with the overwhelming sense of belief–in God, in love, in whatever the strangest and most wonderous powers of the universe are, in whatever will have you as a believer. For the sixteen and a half minutes of “Mogwai Fear Satan,” evil simply can not exist.

And yet, all I want to do while listening to it is weep with sadness. And that’s largely because it feels like the end–and not just because it happens to end the album it appears on, 1997’s stone classic Young Team, marking easily one of the best album closers in history, and not just because it so obviously sounds like the end of the world (try to listen to it without picturing the world collapsing around you–doubt it can be done). Really, it’s just because it feels like the end of all things, as if there’s nothing that could possibly come after it, because what is there that could follow “Mogwai Fear Satan”?

That’s not to say that it’s a perfect song–if it was, you can be certain it’d be significantly higher on this list. The song doesn’t quite pace itself the right way, being a bit too anxious to get to the apocalypse that it doesn’t take as much time as I’d like to build to it, and spends a bit too much time with the fallout afterwards. But the emotions evoked by the song’s best parts are as powerful and as beautiful as any other song on this list, and such brazenness in the face of evil…well, it’s always admirable. If Mogwai legitimately do fear Satan, or anything else for that matter, they’ve got a strange way of showing it.

3 Responses to “100 Years, 100 Songs: #81. Mogwai – “Mogwai Fear Satan””

  1. Scott said

    Just as another religious reference for Mogwai: The song “You Don’t Know Jesus” on 2001’s Rock Action.

    As for songs about the apocalypse, it’s fascinating to my that bands that primarily function without vocalists are so good at conjuring visions of the world ending. There’s something that instruments can do that vocals just… can’t. Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s amazing “The Dead Flag Blues” always comes to mind to me, even though spoken word factors heavily into it.

    Although, on second thought, “The Dead Flag Blues” is sort of a cop-out because the monologue at the beginning is literally ABOUT the end of the world. Still, the feeling sticks with me through the rest of the song.

  2. Also, “My Father My King” was an adaptation of a Jewish hymn, complete with the original lyrics in the sleeve.

    You know I love this song, but you also know that I don’t think it’s their best album by a long shot.

  3. Gunnertilldeath said

    Its brilliant. one of the best things i’ve ever heard in my life.

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