Godspeed You! Black Emperor is a band whose sound is often characterized to be as arduous and prodigious as their name. For the past two decades, their cinematic brand of post-rock has established them as one of the most popular and acclaimed groups in the genre. Records such as F#A# Infinity (1996) or Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas To Heaven (2000) are almost undeniably classics, essentially paving the way for a different form of experimentation within rock music. Over the years, Godspeed has been known to be a band whose music carries social and political themes, despite their songs typically being almost completely instrumental. These themes are usually subtle enough that one could appreciate these albums based solely on their musical merit, but apparent enough upon further analysis, especially after some research on each album’s artwork and visual imagery used in their live shows.
For better or for worse, Godspeed essentially threw any shred of subtlety out the window in the weeks leading up to the release of Luciferian Towers. A press release posted by the band on the fourth of July (!) provides “context” for each of the four compositions on this new record. The listeners are informed that the opening track,”Undoing a Luciferian Towers”, is intended to bring about imagery of a fallen skyline, build from “big lazy money writ in dull marble obelisks”. “Fam/Famine”, the third track, is meant to signify the deaths caused (or ignored) by an “arbitrary meritocracy”. Before signing off as “God’s pee”, the band concludes the release with a set of “grand demands” that informed this LP:
- an end to foreign invasions
- an end to borders
- the total dismantling of the prison-industrial complex
- healthcare, housing, food and water acknowledged as an inalienable human right
- the expert fuckers who broke this world never get to speak again
Needless to say, the intentions of this record are blatant and bold. In this current political climate, did anyone really expect that an overtly political band like Godspeed would stay quiet? Of course not. We all knew that Godspeed would come out with what would probably be their darkest release yet; modern post-rock at its angriest and most intense.
Is that what we received? Well…not exactly. Upon my first listen, I had no knowledge of the specific “context” behind each of the songs, and was immediately struck by how oddly hopeful this album sounded in comparison to their past few releases. “Undoing a Luciferian Towers” starts off with a very long and dark buildup, with increasingly menacing and dissonant layers of instrumentation added throughout, until around the 7 minute mark, when a soaring and almost anthemic guitar lead comes in to resolve the chaos, ending the track on an eerily positive note. It was quite a cathartic way to start a seemingly pessimistic album. Perhaps this tone is presented cynically, as though this apocalypse being crafted is reinterpreted at the last minute as the making of something “great” (again). Even then, that’s probably a stretch.
From a purely musical standpoint, it is clear that Luciferian Towers is Godspeed at their most accessible. As the record starts gaining some momentum, there are points at which the band delves into straight jam territory, such as at the end of “Bosses Hang, pt. III”, or “Anthem for No State, pt. III”. These parts get loud, sure, and have a constant, driving melodic theme, but there still seems to be somewhat of a lack of abrasiveness or fury, especially considering the grand statement the band intended this record to make.
That being said, this is still an album with many redeeming qualities, and it is by no means a poor effort from the Montreal collective. There are definitely points on this record where Godspeed plays to their strengths. “Anthem for No State” is a highlight, showcasing the band’s ability to develop rich and resonant textures to form the cinematic sound they’re known for. The orchestration on most of the tracks should be commended, especially with how strings and percussion are implemented to thicken the overall sound. It’s one of the more instrumentally dense records I’ve heard from the band, which mostly works in their favor.
Luciferian Towers is an enjoyable album overall, which works both as the record’s greatest strength and weakness; each composition on its own has musical merit, but compared to other Godspeed albums, there isn’t much room for interpretation or patience required of the listener. Records such as F#A# Infinity or Lift Your Skinny Fists are records that most people learn to appreciate after a few listens, drawing their own conclusions along the way. Luciferian Towers is by no means a standard rock album, but in comparison to Godspeed’s best work, it’s a pretty easily digestible listen. I would still recommend it to fans of the band or people looking to get into post-rock, but I wouldn’t consider this to be one of the better records in Godspeed’s discography by any means.