This is the third album since Godspeed You! Black Emperor‘s studio return five years ago, mirroring their output from 1997-2002. By now it’s fair to say that this isn’t just a band returned, it’s a band rejuvenated. So what’s happened in the last two years to provoke them to record new music? Oh, not much. Just Brexit and Trump, a few bombings and border closings, a refugee crisis and the continuing wrath of Mother Nature. The visual component of the tour should be harrowing.
As common for the recent incarnation, samples are absent. No more homeless monologues or minarets. The anger is saved for the cover, which prints lyrics not found in the songs, including images of “pale cops” and “drone pilots”. One section is labeled “voiceover”, and offers bitter words: “The empty-faced undersecretary of we-all-fucking-die absconds to private island. We get left in the gathering flames, the scorched detritus of their dull vanities.” It’s fair to say that GY!BE is mad. But aren’t we all? The challenge is in the response. Most people resist giving in to what they hate, but it’s hard to see through the red.
This is where GY!BE’s music comes in. Politics aside, this is powerful music. Anyone who has ever heard the band live remembers the visceral experience. One feels charged, electric, deaf yet yelling, ready to take on the world. And while the band’s pacing has often been glacial, Luciferian Towers is virtually all rock despite the builds. Only the center of Side B is placid. There’s no waiting to get to the good stuff; it’s all good stuff. This being said, the end of each side also includes a memorable melodic shift, one that would be welcome to stay for another few minutes if it didn’t run out of time. And here we are, all running out of time.
The horns on the title track are but a harbinger of things to come: steady tempos shielding savage scenarios, military drums signifying a march off the precipice. So much squall, like voices insisting their volume is truth. Finally at the very end, some sanity, represented by the clarity of chords. The band will use this technique throughout the album, chaos giving way to order, cacophony to clarity. We wish the same for our world. This is the one thing we didn’t expect to hear through the haze of all that anger: hope. One need not be an anarchist to relate to the horizontal yearning of “Bosses Hang”, although the title implies a type of social activism we can’t advocate and don’t recommend.
Sophie Trudeau’s violins play a major role on Side B, gracing the music with an air of elegance, a deep trauma balanced by a deeper resolve. “Fam/Famine” falls back to afford her room. This makes the soft launch of “Anthem for No State”, a half hour into the album, such a sweet reprieve. Even the guitars bow down, borrowing a tinge of the Old West, a time when violence and hope rode stirrup and horse, hand in reins. By the end of “Anthem for No State”, as all violins and violence fade, the end result is enervating. No one got hurt. We’re all still here. We’ve lived through the darkness and are ready to stumble toward the light. (Richard Allen)