Album Reviews

Godspeed You! Black Emperor – Luciferian Towers


Of all the bands that have reunited over the years, one would not have expected Godspeed You! Black Emperor to have stuck to it. And yet, Luciferian Towers marks the Montreal ensemble’s third album since their return to touring in 2010, following on from 2012’s Polaris Prize winning Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend and 2015’s Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress. Those albums saw a progression of sorts in the collective’s signature sound, with both  featuring more thick drones and towering examples of thunderous interplay from guest orchestras. That a group of such inherent breath and scope can continue to expand and develop their sound after two decades then, is what makes Luciferian Towers such a success.

The first track, ‘Undoing A Luciferian Tower’, broadens GY!BE’s instrumental palette, with brass and woodwind instruments joining the usual suspects of screwdriver guitar and plodding drums building in crescendos before each ever-so-slow chord change. The band cycles through a few changes before a a flute, a trumpet and a saxophone join in for the fanfare halfway through. It’s as if GY!BE are trying to write a triumphal march with which to herald a great calamity, a task which they accomplish with no little bombast.

‘Bosses Hang’ hews more to the post-reunion GY!BE template, a quiet opening led by guitars, before being joined by drums about three minutes in and holding tension between the intertwining guitars and violin. The pace picks up in the final third, the drums quickening and the violin sawing away while distorted guitars plot a downward trajectory towards the end, all drum crashes and thudding bass. Here is GY!BE flexing their knack for working a progression to its very last, wringing everything from one motif.

‘Fam_Famine’  leans more toward the drone tracks of Luciferian Towers immediate predecessors, though with a lot more movement than its closest relatives. Mostly strings over a bass drone, there’s a fuzzed out guitar taking up much of the middle ground, while drums build slowly in intensity. Eventually a violin motif peeks through the drone, the same motif that appears towards the end of ‘Undoing A Luciferian Tower’. The sharing of musical DNA that no doubt stems from workshopping material over time and in a live setting, and lends to a sense of cohesion and narrative across an album that could feel laborious otherwise. It could have worked better as a coda to its sibling rather than breaking up the album as it does, but it is nonetheless a successful piece in and of itself.

The beginning of ‘Anthem For No State’ sounds like an elegy, filled with both hope and despair.The instruments dart around each other, the bass plunging and the guitars twisting in on themselves before a violin melody takes the track and the album towards its conclusion. That major key and fluttering violin lend the piece a more hopeful air than previous GY!BE album closers, and hence, giving it a unique sense of promise and of necessary hope when stood next to its near apocalyptic predecessors.

It must be mentioned that once again GY!BE have omitted the spoken word samples that proved so integral to their pre-hiatus work, meaning the melodic and tonal shifts are more responsible than ever for giving context and plot to the movements. They are missed though, given that they, for one, provided relative moments of calm in those intense musical landscapes. Luciferian Towers could well have benefited from such additions but it is of course important to appreciate that GY!BE would rather the music speak for itself rather than have a sample of an addled street preacher or a young child be interpreted as speaking for the band. Instead all we have is the sound, and of course the extensive notes on each track provided in the press release and liner notes of the album.

Taken as a whole, Luciferian Towers represents another evolutionary step for Godspeed You! Black Emperor. As a band they’re proceeding incrementally, developing their sound through steady live trials of material before committing anything to tape. While some would want to see changes between albums on a par with their early work, when they transformed themselves wholly between F♯ A♯ ∞ and Lift Your Skinny Fists…, their current trajectory is one of steady advancement. Luciferian Towers is another step along that path and is a more hopeful work than before. And maybe that’s what we should be taking from it. Progress may be slow. But hope looms. Darren Keane