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Godspeed You! Black Emperor - Luciferian Towers (Album Review)

Wednesday, 27 September 2017 Written by Jonathan Rimmer

If we’re being blunt, Canadian collective Godspeed You! Black Emperor are one of the few second wave post-rock bands still worth a damn.

The dreamy soundscapes conjured by Sigur Rós during their ‘00s stretch have aged well, while no band has been able to replicate Mogwai’s unwavering miserabilism even half as well. But Godspeed are still the kingpins when it comes to awe-inspiring orchestral rock.

Their crescendo-based sound has spawned innumerable imitators, to the point where their own recent records have felt a little stale and paint-by-numbers.

Tracks on their 2015 effort ‘Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress’ utilised the same techniques that made their reputation: recurring melodic motifs, droning guitars and majestic climaxes. But they lacked intensity and purpose.

‘Luciferian Towers’ rights these wrongs to some extent. Bosses Hang and Anthem For No State, the two ‘suites’, hark back to their earlier records because they cover all the bases. Godspeed’s fist in the air moments never simply arrive – they’re the result of meticulous build ups, with subtle melodic phrasings being introduced at the right moment. For the longer tracks, at least, they get both planning and execution right this time around.

Bosses Hang, in particular, introduces a stirring plagal theme, articulating first the melodic parts then the rhythmic parts as the main focal point, before winding into a syncopated climax and returning to the theme at the end. It’s a circular approach we’ve not heard from Godspeed in years, but the sheer drama makes the progression immensely satisfying.

Similarly, Anthem For No State is a rollercoaster full of thrills and twists like Storm from the album ‘Lift Yr Skinny Fists…’. The band’s beloved tremolo is all over this track, enriching both guitar and violin, but it’s used to smoothly manage gear changes as opposed to serving as mere window dressing for their wall of sound.

Ironically, this wall also illuminates their biggest weakness. Godspeed are still experts at timbre and their sonic palette remains impressive, but they no longer use space as effectively. The opening track, Undoing a Luciferian Towers, drones on mercilessly with nothing but a snare drum to keep it in check. When it finally pipes up in trademark fashion, the transition feels forced. Meanwhile, Fam/Famine’s subtle dissonance feels out of context amid the bombast that surrounds it.

As explained in the liner notes, anti-capitalist messaging underpins many of the band’s compositional choices. Structural ideas of destruction and reconstruction are alluded to, which explains the sharp contrast between the shorter and longer pieces on the record. With those themes fresh in mind, the album’s big moments carry a semblance of sense.

But you can’t help but be reminded that their earliest material tended to speak for itself – the crushing moments, the beautiful moments, all of it. Perhaps the absence of field recordings and vocal samples have something to do with it, but there’s something missing from ‘Luciferian Towers’ that holds it back from being truly immersive.

Godspeed You Black Emperor Upcoming Tour Dates are as follows:

Mon October 23 2017 - BRIGHTON Dome
Fri October 27 2017 - GLASGOW O2 ABC
Sat October 28 2017 - MANCHESTER Victoria Warehouse
Mon October 30 2017 - BRISTOL Motion
Tue October 31 2017 - LONDON Troxy

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