Godspeed You! Black Emperor – Luciferian Towers Album Review

Cover image of GY!BE's new album "Luciferian Tower"

Luciferian Towers could be the prettiest, Pop-iest, gentlest, and most immediate album in Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s discography


 September 22, 2017


Montreal ensemble Godspeed You! Black Emperor have always made emotional music— even the casual fan will immediately recognize their sometimes heartrending, sometimes anxious, sometimes ecstatic, but always cathartic brand of Post-Rock, not because it uses any special instrumentation or particularly memorable production—in fact some of their best melodies can be forgotten more than remembered—but because their music always hits in the same region of the heart between the panicking, fervent brilliance of fire and the lonely lustrous gleam that same fire may exude on a quiet night. Maybe that sounds a bit highfalutin, but when it comes to talking about GY!BE, prosaic analyses and tedious explanation will always fall flat of the instantaneous experiential ecstasy that comes with listening to their music—it’s best to go straight to poetry. That said, Godspeed You!’s last album sounded like a minor shift—whereas most of their work basis its climaxes on melodic builds and shifting layers, Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress moves between heavy, raucous calamity and droning darkness for its first half-hour, as if Earth decided to make dynamic music. Where there is melody, it comes out as a warlike yawp, never a soothing word. Then, halfway through “Piss Crowns Are Trebled,” the debris clears, the tension breaks, and the band soars into the outer limits. Luciferian Towers takes the opposite approach and ought to be viewed as a kind of converse complement to the former record. Whereas Asunder opens with an immediate drum beat and a wall of concrete guitars following close behind, Towers opens with a long fade-in of quiet martial pomp, which develops into fanfare. Indeed, Luciferian Towers could be the prettiest, Pop-iest, gentlest, and most immediate album in Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s discography—a point that simultaneously works for it and against it.

Take album highlight, “Bosses Hang, Pt. I”. It opens with shimmering strings and slow meticulous guitar chords. A distorted guitar solo enters, radiating of burning majesty, but still gentle and slow. Two minutes in, drums and a viola countermelody enter. It’s all clearly GY!BE, the grit of the production and the grandiosity of the vision, but the three-chord structure and deliberate BPM all seem uncharacteristic: this song sounds like a Low song with the vocals cut out (see particularly “When I Go Deaf” or “Nothing But Heart”). And the song proper ends with its track—there is a transition into “Bosses Hang, Pt. II”, but no continuity of melodic ideas or structure. Part II is the first moment on Luciferian Towers that resembles any territory previous covered by Godspeed You!—it’s a building guitar loop most resembling the vaguely Arabic modes of “Mladic” from Allelujah! Don’t Bend Ascend!. The track gains considerable momentum, and Part III begins when it really starts to rock. The loop contorts, but continues until four minutes into Part III, when, suddenly, it goes into a half-time two-step with a three chord structure, essentially an allusion to Part I.  We’re left with a song bookended by slow, melodic rock with a tear-down-build-up in its center, not something structurally unusual for Godspeed, but nonetheless innovative because of the sheer difference in melodic ideas. This song could not have appeared on any other GY!BE album—it’s too pretty, too slow, too tightly written.

The LP’s second side begins with “Fam/Famine,” the obligatory drone song needed to complete any Godspeed album. But get this: instead of delving into the infinitely desolate Sunn O))) drones of Asunder or the meandering cacophony of Allelujah, or even the moody dark ambient drones of their earlier albums, the band decides to make full-on melodic drone more in the modern classical vein of Stars of the Lid. This track wouldn’t sound out of place as an unreleased third part to “Requiem for Dying Mothers”.

Another three-track suite, “Anthem for No State” finishes the album off. Part I is an expository ballad of apocalyptic sadness—a sonic territory not covered as well on a Godspeed album since their debut. It again moves through three chords at a snail’s pace, this time less like slowcore and more like the Mogwai’s sad reflections on Come on Die Young. Part II’s western waltz style acts as a sequel the Earth-influence on Asunder—if Asunder was GY!BE’s attempt at infusing early Drone Metal into their music, “Anthem for No State, Pt. II” is them taking from Earth’s post-2005 western-metal sound. Part III, the eight-minute album closer continues in that style—it begins with two minutes of flickering drone, sparking and waving, until the reveal of a western-guitar immediately recalling GY!BE’s early work. Fans of “The Cowboy” and “The Sad Mafioso” immediately recognize the character of this guitar and his lonesome sorrow. But if those songs describe a sadness once felt by this long-lost protagonist, Part III describes his eventual triumph. The track does not reach the heights of most Post-Rock, but its satisfying guitar engineering, brutal bass-line, shuffling drums, and sublime violin more than make up for that.

Together, these songs make for GY!BE’s most consistently satisfying album since Lift Your Skinny Fists. It is an album for rejoicing and enjoying, and a complete departure from the darkness of their more recent output. That said, as inviting as the album is, it may not have the same staying power as, say Asunder or Yanqui U.X.O. (an album I personally believe to be woefully underrated). Its accessibility certainly detracts from its complexity—an element of GY!BE’s music that, for many, gives it replay value. It lacks the paranoia and anger found in almost every other Godspeed album and seems to stick to a few simple moods: exultant, contemplative, and shattered. In spite of this reductive outlook, Luciferian Towers delivers a GY!BE album that not only justifies their continued existence as a band—it solidifies their title as Post-Rock masters, and proves that they can age gracefully without retreading.

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