There was endless speculation back then about the significance of that roving exclamation mark. Why was it now in the middle? Coded revolutionary statement? Cunning practical joke? Cock up at the printers? How were you even supposed to say the band's name now? Nobody knew, and that was part of Godspeed's strange, contradictory appeal: this wasn't merely beautiful, apocalyptic, immeasurably powerful and mysterious music. Godspeed were both a beacon of resistance and a rapturous response to the global nightmare into which the new millennium delivered us. This was music which, in every sense, invited belief. They were the single most resonant, relevant underground act of an era and, as if acknowledging that words were no longer enough to articulate the industrial tribulation we all felt back then, the band's furious surges and mournful laments were largely instrumental. The spoken word intro to The Dead Flag Blues from F♯A♯∞ ("We're trapped in the belly of this horrible machine, and the machine is bleeding to death") was an eerie expression of apocalyptic dread, half in love, you felt, with the coming cataclysm. Radical, romantic, uncompromisingly committed and entirely indifferent to the mainstream media, when Godspeed announced a break in operations (they've never officially split up), they declared it the result of "a massive existential freakout." (Just so's we can all get it right for Desert Island Discs, 'F♯A♯∞' is pronounced 'F Sharp A Sharp Infinity'.)
Nearly a decade later and post-rock, which - Slint and Swans aside - Godspeed effectively created, has proved a far less fertile landscape than post-punk. Its whole quiet-loud-quieter-louder formulation is as comfortingly cliched as the landfill indie against which it's aligned itself, and it frequently looks distressingly pretentious. The Music & Video Exchange at Notting Hill Gate helpfully subtitles its post-rock section, 'Music Soon to be Heard on an Orange Phone Commercial.' Yet Mt Zion are still arming the barricades, in their own confounding and contradictory way. Their new album Kollaps Tradixionales isn't as furious – or as noisy, or as militant in its tone - as its magnificent predecessor 13 Blues For 13 Moons, but it still has the rickety, rackety feel of Led Zeppelin playing with the Kronos Quartet in an abandoned Montreal warehouse, haunted by the spirit of Crass.
Also, and no doubt awkwardly for a band wedded to anarcho-punk's inclusive ethos, Mt Zion still inspire massive reverence, though thankfully not quite as much tonight as the last time I saw them, at the Scala in 2007. There every track was met with awed applause which gave way to expectant silence – literal, absolute, hushed silence, as if this were a genuine religious event – as we waited for Efrim Menuck and the band to tell us, y'know, what the hell was going on out there. They gamely tried out a few jokes on the crowd just so we could see that they were, like, humans, but there was an uncomfortable sense that despite (or because) of their public reticence, Mt Zion – like Penny Rimbaud and Ian MacKaye before them – were being asked for answers to questions they hadn't posed.
It ain't like that tonight. Erfim is in excellent spirits, happily claiming that he used to be in The Specials, lauding Lady Gaga, extemporising on hair care and encouraging some good natured heckling. ("You bring back Godspeed. There were only four chords…")
Most of the stuff comes from the new album which, incidentally, borrows half its title from Einstürzende Neubauten's debut Kollaps; Neubauten, too, were born out of broken buildings. The sheer number of strings on stage – droning cello, discordant violin, Erfim's thrashed guitar - gives Mt Zion a depth way beyond that of conventional rock 'n' roll. And when they hit a peak, as during the slow illumination of There Is A Light, it's as if they're creating an entirely new landscape which we, in turn, are invited to enter and make our own.
Like Arcade Fire, in some obscure sense Mt Zion's music seems to celebrate frailty, impotence, anger and anxiety, yet in that scraping, swooping string section there's such timeless and uncontaminated power that you might as well call this pre-rock as post: music grounded in a dimly lit past which nevertheless heralds the future. Struggling to sleep hours later, I did something I don’t often do now I'm an old and careworn adult: sat in the dark, staring at the sky, immersed in their homemade hymns to insurrection - strange musical fables about maintaining hope at the end of the line. He has left us alone, but shafts of light sometimes grace the corner of our rooms…