At this point, the GY!BE formula probably needs no introduction. Godspeed You! Black Emperor has been making long-form, crescendo-driven, enigmatically titled, outspokenly political, communally produced, instrumental post-rock for over twenty years, with no major stylistic shifts. GY!BE tends to work within a well-delineated affective and thematic range: loud, soft, dark, light. If it’s not quite rock, it’s not quite avant-garde either; it’s more like the hyperbolic elaboration of certain rock impulses.
GY!BE’s new album Luciferian Towers, its sixth, offers few surprises. Still, it’s a satisfying entry in the band’s oeuvre that sees the group subtly tightening its formula (gone are the extended drones and audio samples that marked the earlier releases) while indulging in heretofore undemonstrated levity and looseness.
The opening “Undoing a Luciferian Towers” [sic] is one big crescendo, in GY!BE’s grand tradition. Pleasantly atonal orchestral textures morphing slowly over martial drums gradually build in intensity, culminating in a major-key unison melody almost Arcade Fire-esque in its bombast. “Bosses Hang” bookends an extensive modal Terry Riley-like meander with alternatively proggy and bluesy riffs on a melody that, at the song’s climax, amounts to a sort of dramatically slowed-down, overdriven fiddle tune. “Fam/Famine” echoes that happy melody from “Undoing A Luciferian Towers” in a more or less freeform arrhythmic textural wash—brief for GY!BE, at under seven minutes.
The concluding showstopper, “Anthem For No State,” opens by rehashing the proggy-bluesy guitar motifs of “Bosses Hang” before moving through a more dissonant orchestral section—the first and only hint of the agitation that marked the band’s releases through 2012’s Polaris Prize-winning ’Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!—segueing into a heavier guitar-and-drum section redolent of ’90s stoner metal, and climaxing with an epic soundtrack-worthy violin melody.
For many, darkness stubbornly remains a signifier of seriousness in art; early reviews of Luciferian Towers seem to have found it to be slight in comparison with GY!BE’s majestic oeuvre. This strikes me as a misunderstanding: affirmation is as complex as critique. It’s significant that “Anthem For No State” moves through the only truly turbulent moments on the album, to arrive at possibly GY!BE’s most affirmative climax to date—fittingly ambivalent for a song that, judging from the title, aims to express anarchist pride. Luciferian Towers may be GY!BE’s least experimental album, but they were never exactly an experimental band in the first place. I prefer to think of it as possibly the band’s most cohesive album, and possibly the one that takes in the widest emotional range. No mean feat.