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Godspeed You! Black Emperor – Luciferian Towers

Constellation

GYBE - Luciferian TowersI remember the first time I heard Godspeed You! Black Emperor; having my mind blown by the sheer enormity of the scale of that first album, the bleak drama and the frazzled audacity of it. With the second album, this ragged bunch of Canadians reached the apogee of what could be done using the basic constructs of rock music by twisting them into their own grizzled, scuffed image, injecting horns and strings and creating something that reflected society as we didn’t want too see it and which even now has never been topped.

When they originally split back in the early 2000s and sprouted into their various offshoots, I was quite pleased. I mean, what more could they possibly do? So, when the reformation was mooted and then some live shows were planned for London, I must confess to being a little disappointed. I didn’t want to see that immaculate legacy diluted by a run of mediocre cash-ins. The truth was different though and the releases by the reconvened line up were seductive in a different way. They didn’t seem to be trying to boldly go where they had been before, but to attempt a new twist on the old sound; and really, with the state of the world as it is, with so much uncertainty, perhaps we need them again. We need them to be soundtracking this runaway train that is the world.

This is the third album since 2012, but the band is different now; so much of the glorious string section has stuck with the offshoots with only the delightful Sophie Trudeau keeping the faith, but where some strings have fallen by the wayside, there are more guitars and there does appear to still be two drummers. As I say though, this is a different proposition and although the band configuration is slightly changed, there is still that swell and sweep, that wash of emotion and frustration that is Godspeed’s calling card. The tracks are still long and still the liner notes vent their ire and dismay at the way big business and governments run roughshod over the will and wellbeing of the populace.

Like the last two albums, there are only four tracks squeezed on here, and two of those are close to fifteen minutes in length. Opener “Undoing A Luciferian Towers” has that kind of massed rank of guitars intro, semi-classical sounding as the violin swoops in and out of the fray. There is an element of frustration to it, like the stamping of feet moving in circles, trying to get warm but unable to move along. Interestingly, there are fresh textures with the arrival of flute and some fairly free horns, but it is stuck, stuck in some strange ebb tide; a treatise in inertia.

It is a good start and for the fifteen minute follow-up “Bosses Hang”, this is where the band hit their stride; a full band workout with everybody involved, the background ablaze with reverb. There are similarities here to F♯A♯∞. Listening to that, I used to be reminded of the prison house band in The Good, The Bad And The Ugly‘, those sad faces being forced to play so mournfully to cover up the sounds of torture. There was a Wild Western sweep to the sound of that band and there is an element of that to the Godspeed aesthetic. However, instead of covering up torture and ill treatment, Godspeed do their best to highlight it, bring it to the fore, thrusting it into your face.

This is one of those inexorable tracks that only they can do this well, the repetitive, ascending violin drawing the sound upwards like the flames of a forest fire as the guitars whine and whinny. Compared to the inertia of the prior track, this is full band-propelled forward motion with the drums and bass just injecting a little bit more and a little bit more as the song progresses like a herd of wild horses flying onward and onward, not knowing when to stop, perhaps only when they burst. This is compelling stuff.

Rather like ‘Allelujah! Don’t Bend Ascend, there is a division between those tracks that are about movement and strength, and those that are more about torpor and the stress based on that. “Fam/Famine” is a dirge of violin and grumbling guitar buzzing like lazy flies. The song seems to swelter and sweat, straining to move, but unable to break through this sense of fatigue. There is a half-speed reprise of a violin line from earlier, moving like treacle with a melancholia induced from this heat-derived sense of heaviness or from the feeling of being unable to escape from the bludgeoning of the drums. It is heavy and uncomfortable, but is thankfully saved by the Calexico-like intro of closer “Anthem For No State”. It is gentle and sparse as two guitars wind their way around mountain passes. Discord and feedback are introduced just when you think you have the measure of things, and the track swirls like black clouds trapped in a valley, building and building until an enormous riff overpowers. There is something life-affirming about the reintroduction of the violin; and then everything is over.

There seems to be more control in this new version of the band, but those luminous sweeping soundscapes and that sense of abject frustration are still present. Perhaps there is less impotence now after the years of experience. Life is still a beautiful thing for Godspeed, but maybe they are coming to terms with the sense of desperation and are able to produce a salve for us all accordingly, because that is what their music has always been. The return has proven to be more than welcome and on the strength of this, their legacy in my mind is still in safe hands.

-Mr Olivetti-

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