There are few artists who bring as many tears to my eyes as Godspeed You! Black Emperor. The way in which the band can translate so many ideas and feelings into sound never ceases to amaze me. If you’re not familiar with them, they’ve been putting out material since the mid-90s with seminal albums such as F♯ A♯ ∞ and Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven. With their sixth studio album, Luciferian Towers, they explore a world where danger hangs above its inhabitants like a halo and, as the band explains, “the ocean doesn’t give a shit because it’s dying too”. This LP is another amazing journey into the land of anarchy and peril that Godspeed crafted so many years ago.
With that in mind, try not to think of this as a traditional or critical review. Think of this piece as the thoughts of a fan who is revisiting the universe of GY!BE in the context of their latest record.
“the wind is whistling through all 3,000 of its burning window-holes!”
Our journey begins with “Undoing a Luciferian Towers”. This track is a bit of a slow burner, but it grew on me with time. It begins Luciferian Towers in typical GY!BE fashion: tepid at first, but the instrumentation gradually begins to grow and mutate. There are moments when I think that the band can’t go any higher, yet they continue to rise in intensity. That explosion is an almost Celtic chorus that cries out triumphantly with theremins, guitars, pianos, and strings.
“what we need now is shovels, wells, and barricades!”
We continue with “Bosses Hang”, a song in three parts. Its first movement starts with moody guitar and bass passages, supported by warbling strings. Soon, a weeping guitar takes over the melody, quickly joined by the rest of the ensemble, in a melody that reminds me of the chorus of The Beatles‘ “With a Little Help From My Friends”. Once the trumpets kick in, the colors brighten into a labored but hopeful aesthetic.
The second iteration opens with a soft, hypnotic refrain. Ambience and violins support the guitar lead as the tempo increases. Whispers of the melody from part 1 can be heard before the ambient sounds and strings begin to bend and churn. The volume falls, and a new passage rises from these churning strings. That passage turns into the final movement of “Bosses Hang”, as the strings take on a driving 6/8 (or possibly 6/4?) run. I love the way the chords seem to change the hue of the overall theme as the track continues to grow in magnitude. As the band continues to push forward with everything they have, the song reverts back to The Beatles-esque melody from part one. It returns with pounding symbols and exalted reverberations that left me utterly satisfied.
“the forest is burning and soon they’ll hunt us like wolves.”
Next on the tracklist is “Fam/Famine”. This cut acts as an orchestral interlude between the two long movements. I won’t go too deep into this song, as it’s a bit of a low point. To me, this feels like a Godspeed You! Black Emperor song featuring Chuck Wild, and Liquid Mind has never exactly appealed to me. It’s still a very alluring song, and it functions as a lovely interlude, but “Fam/Famine” isn’t much of a highlight for me.
“the ocean doesn’t give a shit because it knows it’s dying too.”
If you listen to any song on Luciferian Towers, make it “Anthem for No State”. On their previous LP, Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress, I found myself wishing for something a bit more complex. On this track, the instrumentals are simple and easy to listen to, but almost as riveting as something off of F♯ A♯ ∞. The straightforwardness of this track, particularly part 3, solidifies the feeling of watching a classic cowboy movie. I don’t want to give away too much about this piece if you have not heard it already, but I will say that, not only is this one of Godspeed‘s most cinematic works, it is their most fun song to date.
When I listen to this record, it feels like the epilogue of a story of destruction. I can go back in time to when I first listened to something like Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven or Yanqui UX.O. I retrace my steps on cracked concrete and remember the riots and earthquakes that took over the world so many years ago, and I still feel the same goosebumps on my skin.
This is a stupendous record, and if you have yet to listen to Godspeed You! Black Emperor‘s discography, don’t forget this LP.
Notable Tracks: “Undoing a Luciferian Towers”; “Bosses Hang, Pt. I”, “Anthem for No State, Pt. I”; “Anthem for No State, Pt. III”
FFO: David Bowie (Low, Blackstar), Do Make Say Think, Mogwai (Happy Songs For Happy People)