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Godspeed You! Black Emperor – “Luciferian Towers” Review

Canadian experimental band Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s sixth-studio album Luciferian Towers is a rather subtle deviation of their previous work. Offering lighter tones and what could perhaps be considered more generic riffs and organisation, particularly in comparison to their 2012 effort, Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress. Gone are the intervals and doomed absences of structure that made their last album a post-apocalyptic, suffocating masterpiece. Yet, the band is still producing work unlike any other with perhaps the only insightful ambitious resemblance of experimental rock band, Swans.

The album begins with rather pleasant yet deceiving strings which soon sway towards the melancholic – descending into swirls and sounds that impose the feeling of falling and display images of spiralling out of control as the composition becomes more claustrophobic. “Undoing a Luciferian Towers” feels like a suitable gateway into the politics and a journey that the members wish to offer. The track possesses an epic atmosphere that lends impressions of conquering lands with its employment of a range of instruments and shrieking tones, driving the song into surreal scenes of despair and stirs of discomfort. As the catastrophic arrangements begin to simmer down into grand guitar-work, it feels as though the band have succeeded on the same plains as their previous album; when the second track begins, this changes.

“Bosses Hang” is told in three parts, offering a shift in tone than the one speculated on the album’s first track. “Bosses Hang Pt. I” feels unmistakably like Alternative Rock, sadly feeling slightly generic and reliant on simplistic guitar riffs. It gives the impression that the album will be less charged and less enraged than their previous work. It certainly feels like a more relaxed approach from the band. As the repetitive rhythm lingers on, it does bridge nicely into the track’s second segment; a sense of dread is hinted at, but its return feels to be elongated. It is continuous in its construction, as one would expect, but after such a strong opening piece of music the next stepping stone through this prophetic telling of political defiance is not as compelling as fans may have hoped. Nevertheless, it still demands and keeps your attention, despite the subconscious reminiscence of their past albums when comparing such an obvious shift in influence towards the psychedelic. It does feel more like generic rock rather than post-rock, but it is done well – it is the knowledge that the band is aspiring to be more anthemic than subversive that drains the track of a much needed potency. Fortunately, as the third part closes “Bosses Hang”, a sense of the epic lurks and stalks its way back in for a third and phenomenal offering: “Fam/Famine”.

The introductory strings of “Fam/Famine” oddly sound like they could deviate into a sick re-telling of Dr Dre’s “Forgot About Dre” – albeit for a few measly seconds. But, these are positive touches that would not be found on their previous work, suggesting notions of enlightenment rather than condemnation. An escalation of vast distances of sorrow and morning are undercut by such alacrity and airs of change and improvement; there is a conflict occurring within the instrumental arrangements that suggest a strain in the narrative that has been building hopefully over the course of “Bosses Hang”. The imagery of a blossoming flower against the backdrop of a car billowing sooty smoke is back on this track. The sounds crafted are much more impressive and layered in inspired distortion. Drums sneak in and seem to usher in a change in the winds that is suggested upon in the track’s origins. Although “Fam/Famine” is the shortest piece of music on the record, it accomplishes a great deal in a runtime falling shy of seven minutes. It all comes together as a collective “Anthem for no State”.

Fourth and finally, “Anthem for no State” is told in three parts, but with much more success than “Bosses Hang”. The band immediately conjures such sad and vast imagery with ease, reminiscent of the feeling felt when watching the films of Hungarian auteur Bela Tarr – invoking a slow, painful realisation and dedication to one’s craft. “Anthem for no State pt. I” is the quietest and most understated composition on the album. It dawns upon the listener that this is the last track, and the question of where the fury and energy that accompanies listening to a Godspeed You! Black Emperor album swims in the psyche. Sudden realisation that this is a very different project than initially perceived washes over the listener. You are not exhausted – and then it begins. The drums and instruments soften apart from glimmers of guitar work. The peaceful, satisfying existence of the fourth track’s first segment has appropriately lured you into a false sense of security that is then shattered as “Anthem for no State” becomes progressively dangerous. Drones and doom kick in.

The final two parts of the last track are easily the most interesting and compelling arrangements on Luciferian Towers. Familiar sounds from the first track creep in amongst a sea of static groans as the energy of the instruments become hectic and disorientated, but still controlled and formative in response to the coherent backbone of the electric guitar. The progression here is magisterial, majestic and bold. Moving at a furious pace, the drums sharpen and the desired alarm escalates into “Anthem for no State pt. III”, which stands proudly as one of the most melodically turbulent pieces of music released this year. The entire album beautifully comes together on its departure with such a rich variety of instrumentation. Here is the unadulterated, thrilling feeling that fans were eager for. It is almost kept secret in order to stir emotions in a stunning final act – the band boom a defiant ‘No!’ to the injustices imposed on modern society. The album concludes with a confidence that has been earned over decades of perfecting a unique sound. Take a deep breath. The luciferian towers are crashing down – cut to black.

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Posted by Chris Weston

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