Nine silhouettes on stage, sitting or standing in a circle around each other while twin film loops produce textures behind them. The loops are mostly black, but bits of white fuzz come in and out of the frame as would a fleeting thought about the death of consumerist culture. Two basses and three guitars join Sophie Trudeau’s violin loops. As the decibel level reaches triple digits, some people start leaving the crowd with wide eyes and intention, no longer caring whether it was the drugs turning on them or their hearts reaching their peak. My own heart is boiling in my sober chest, and a voice inside tells me I’ll need to take a breather outside. Just then, the word “hope” appears on the screen in giant chicken-scratch lettering, fading in and out as if the collected consciousness of the crowd could lose sight of it at any time. The track coalesces further before going completely dark, leaving the much less anxious rhythms of ‘Peasantry’ or ‘Light! Inside of Light!’ to relieve the mood. Time has stopped for Godspeed You! Black Emperor, and we’re all so many risk-taking listeners desperate for a respite from the expert fuckers breaking our world.
Such are the experiences the Canadian post-rockers have to compare themselves against when they release a new record. If you pay close enough attention, you can see the underserved masses finally defenestrating that which Godspeed have been sonically dueling for the past two decades. Perhaps it isn’t a triumph at all. Perhaps it’s only music. Any option is viable.
The melodies the band put out, particularly on their 90s output, cast these events in a formless haze. More recently, Godspeed have employed veritable musical passageways – more notes, a little less space, but god forbid any semblance of a band with their pop sensibilities intact.
One such melody appears right at the beginning of Luciferian Towers. Once again, Trudeau heralds it, caked underneath layer upon layer of noise, feedback, and a bizarre set of hornlike effects. 75 seconds in, the unified note descends with the entire band, settling on a microtonal whelp of the first section that all but destroys the light feeling. The violin plays the melody in the new key as well. By the end of the song, aptly titled ‘Undoing a Luciferian Towers’, guitars have picked up the phrase and drums joined in. This isn’t the ‘Hope Drone’ Godspeed opened with on their last tour, but its intensity achieves a similar level of entropic release.
After ten years of silence, the band reconvened in 2012, and Luciferian Towers operates much like the previous two records in the Godspeed reboot. Two suites occupy the majority of the whole alongside two shorter tracks. 2000’s Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas To Heaven and 2015’s underrated Asunder, Sweet, and Other Distress showed clear mastery of the “album as sonic film.” This new set of songs reaches for the same goals, and isn’t a heavy departure from what we’ve seen so far this decade.
That being said, the focus on consistent melody stays strong throughout Luciferian Towers' 44 minutes. The longer pieces, ‘Bosses Hang’ and ‘Anthem for No State’, open with moving passages before quickly expanding the dynamic palette past the 11s. Anthem for No State’ in particular plays out like a Daniel Day-Lewis chase scene in the song’s second movement. Twin drumkits take their time with marching snare rumbles and intermittent crashes. Upright bass hits the quarter note of every 6/8 beat, a swelling and tipsy pulse the band has been known for since day one. The climax is more optimistic than that of Asunder, though it is no less stirring, before Trudeau tremolo-bows her violin into a violent end as the sun crosses the horizon; or perhaps descends down into it.
As moving as the suites are, the shorter tracks here are most satisfying. On ‘Fam/Famine’, a Street Hassle-era Lou Reed string section underlies the album's most delicate sections, and are much needed after the ecstatic radiance of ‘Bosses Hang’. There’s only as much room for panic as a band like Godspeed You! Black Emperor is willing and able to allow. At a certain point, you forget how many guitar sounds are at play as they evoke the waking hours shared between families and lovers. The drums here amount to little more than cymbal flourishes, but the band capture the hits with kick drums that ensure your ears are surrounded by more love than hate. Once again, they’re able to achieve something like horns in fanfare, but is really just the vast array of overtones birthed by the wealth of instrumentation and arrangement.
Like the other eight songs from the band's current iteration, there are no monologues or voiceovers to establish non-musical themes. Instead, we’re given bios of the songs that are written in a broken, yet understandable English. The words for ‘Bosses Hang’ are striking in their immediacy: “labor, alienated from the wealth it creates, so that holy cow, most of us live precariously!” It’s a statement to shake the reader from their potential complacency as a cog in the dismantling of healthcare and other inalienable rights. You think for a moment of the benevolent lives these musicians have taken up as defenders of humanity’s future, utilizing grand sound as their tool.
Most poignant is the “in conclusion” set of demands the band used to inform the record: “an end to foreign invasions, an end to borders, the total dismantling of the prison-industrial complex,” and so on. Such enormous needs were caused by equally enormous injustices, and the heart of the listener goes out to the millions of unfairly incarcerated Americans and Canadians, as do the hearts of the band. Whether Godspeed had intended to soundtrack the burning forests and poisoned oceans, or unify humanity to save them, is unclear. At numerous times throughout Luciferian Towers, the answer is a satisfying both.
Praising the music with the intention to promote it to a wider audience seems like a trite endeavor, one that may attract the attention of those that would bring the world to a crumbling horde of subhuman rubbish, and in turn label such art as some conspiratorially injurious movement. However, as the bio of ‘Bosses Hang’ and many positive pundits on the political spectrum have pointed out, there’s “more of us than them!” Such is the shining truth of music so moving. Even without the idea that Luciferian Towers is a grand statement beyond music, it’s still a functionally and otherwise dazzling work, one that sits nicely among the band's compositions. Even naming the band member by member doesn’t complete the puzzle of intention, since Godspeed You! Black Emperor are much more than the sum of their succinct parts. It’s almost a picture we can hang on the wall of our living room to help remind us of the beauty that can be found in humanity; and how much it’s at stake in the era the band operate in.