Image: Constellation Records

GY!BE’s Luciferian Towers politically active concept doesn’t completely live up to its ambition

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It seems too much of a coincidence that the pioneering Canadian post-rock collective Godspeed You! Black Emperor announced the title of their sixth album as Luciferian Towers, just two months after the terrifying, hellish inferno of Grenfell Towers. This notion of hell engulfing the vulnerable residents of Grenfell is so eerily similar to its name, it would not be out of place to assume this preventable catastrophe might have affected its concept. Much like the furious public response to Grenfell, they believe this is an urgent springboard for political demands, which came with an accompanied press release for their newest album, Luciferian Towers:

an end to foreign invasion
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

Although Godspeed You! Black Emperor have never been as overtly political as this, undertones of aggressive globalisation, disparate wealth, and technology anaesthetising the population has been subtly present in their work, whether referenced in cryptic song titles or samples of crackled radio static obscured behind layers upon layers of instrumentation. However, in the wake of Grenfell, and in a more hostile political sphere, they have dropped the subtlety without second thought. Abrupt track titles such as ‘Bosses Hang’, ‘Fam/Famine’, and ‘Anthem for No State’ push the values of their short manifesto.

In typical Godspeed You! Black Emperor fashion, they create vast, dissonant soundscapes through use of reverb-heavy guitars

In typical Godspeed You! Black Emperor fashion, they create vast, dissonant soundscapes through use of reverb-heavy guitars that build gradually into a deafening crescendo. ‘Undoing a Luciferian Towers’ opens the project, invoking a titanic wall of sound with blaring, rippling guitars. Amongst this mesh of distortion, horns whine and violins snivel as if crying out for the lost souls to the inequalities of our world. Although it sets the tone for what is to come well, it sounds much too like an undeveloped jam from a previous studio session, thus the climax does not really hit very hard as a result.

These gripes of sounding like a reincarnation of their past selves continue with the first part of the next sequence, ‘Bosses Hang’. It does pick up quite nicely with parts two and three, a stomping groove led unconventionally by the string sections, which overtake the guitars for a more textural role, rumbling ominously in the background. But again, the climax is all too predictable. You just patiently wait for it happen, and move on. The next track ‘Fam/Famine’ is even less affecting with a recycling of melody presented in the first track, just very washed-out and more low-key. Reusing that material like a jingle seems like an attempt to tie together the sonic elements of the album conceptually, but just feels like an unnecessary diversion.

Despite the middle of the album lacking in substance and experimentation (traits they are renowned for), they do manage to bring these qualities back in Luciferian Towers’ last movement, ‘Anthem for No State’. The beginning has some truly heart-crushing string arrangements layered on top of a subtle guitar ballad, as if cradling the listener telling them “it’s going to be ok”. Incredibly, they lift this despondence into something more hopeful and determined as they shatter the stillness with a driving drum beat matched by loud, immense guitar feedback. This new energy provides a thrilling end to the album, dispelling its continual state of doom and gloom.

Although there are some undeniable highlights of raw emotion on GY!BE’s latest, much of it seems like reused material from before. Considering the demands seen in the press release, liner notes and song descriptions, I would have liked to have seen more aggression and intensity to match up with that. Luciferian Towers succeeds in striking bleak mood of the uncertain and unfair world we inhabit, but fails to push the radical, alternative vision of their manifesto with fresh, abrasive sonics.

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