Godspeed You! Black Emperor: Luciferian Towers

I wonder if Godspeed You! Black Emperor might not be happier today than it's ever been—to the degree, that is, that a collective whose very raison d'être appears to be predicated at least in part upon raging against multiple machines can ever be described as happy. Together since 1994, the group's weathered many a storm and today more than ever operates as it pleases, years removed from the initial intense wave of attention, critical and otherwise, with which it was met and that might have thrown a less focused outfit off course. The Montreal-based band would seem to be in that most enviable of positions: twenty years after its first recording appeared, Godspeed You! Black Emperor enjoys the unwavering support of the Constellation label as well as an enduring fan base that purchases its albums and attends its concerts with religious devotion.

Though Godspeed You! Black Emperor has always railed against corruption and injustice in whatever form it takes, there's probably never been an era more inviting of outrage than today's. Here's a sampling of the “grand demands” listed by the group on Luciferian Towers, its seventh album: “an end to foreign invasions ... an end to borders ... healthcare, housing, food and water acknowledged as an inalienable human right,” and so on. The heaviness of its attack is attributable in part to its nine-member size (included in that total is Karl Lemieux, who's credited with16mm film projections) and specifically a wailing three-guitar front line (Michael Moya, David Bryant, Efrim Manuel Menuck) and a rhythm section comprising two bassists (Mauro Pezzente, Thierry Amar) and two drummers (Aidan Girt, Timothy Herzog). In keeping with the band's philosophy, no one musician stands apart from the whole; if any one of them can be said to, it's Sophie Trudeau, whose playing can't help but assume a rather lead-like role when her violin resonates so vividly alongside the other instruments.

The opening “Undoing A Luciferian Towers” sees the group raging against a poisonous skyline of glass obelisks with an eight-minute death march, its lumbering pulse accompanied by a thick, strangulated wail of guitar, violin, trumpet, and woodwinds (trumpeter Craig Pederson and saxophonist/flutist Bonnie Kane join the group for the opening track). Melodically the piece plays somewhat like some dirge-like riff on a Scottish highlands theme, one that also rises from the collective's collapsing sprawl during the related third track “Fam/Famine.” The first of two three-part suites, “Bosses Hang” perpetuates the album's raw, grime-encrusted attack with, in this case, the band protesting in classic Marxian manner against the exploitation of workers alienated from the products and wealth they create for others; rhythms and guitars grind caustically as the band digs into a relentlessly hammering groove and an equally insistent and ever-intensifying melodic figure. A lament for the band's home country (“a crippled thing, drowning in a puddle, covered in ants”), the album's second suite, “Anthem For No State” opts in its first two parts for delicacy and calm over fury before a twanging guitar figure and galloping drums stoke serious fire during the third to take the album out thunderously.

At forty-four minutes, Luciferian Towers might be dwarfed in size by Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven, but such concision works in the band's favour. Rather than painting itself into a corner by continuing down the prog-like path of that 2000 release with its intricate twenty-minute opuses, Godspeed You! Black Emperor returned to its rawer and arguably truer self after reconvening in 2011 with the blistering ‘Allelujah! Don't Bend! Ascend!' and Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress. Listeners who cottoned to those two will no doubt find Luciferian Towers as satisfying, especially when it holds true to the course set by its predecessors.

October 2017