Godspeed You! Black Emperor tear the system down and revel in what comes next.
As far as apt soundtrack decisions go, the opening scene of Danny Boyle’s 2002 film 28 Days Later, at least in my books, reigns supreme:
An experimental “rage” virus has infected the populace, resulting in a quarantined nation emptied of its humanity. Through the eyes of Boyle’s subject, Jim, we see London’s regal West End utterly abandoned; its architecture and its cultural landmarks reduced to monuments of a civil society that fell prey to itself. Quietly, “East Hastings” from Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s 1998 release F#a#infinity builds up from the ambience, moving from elegiac, to sinister, to outright chaotic as Jim wordlessly pieces together the horrific events that have consumed the world around him.
Godspeed’s music works so beautifully in these opening shots because it speaks directly to the film’s premise. After all, “East Hastings” draws inspiration from a troubling real-world example of urban blight and decay. Its mournful energy radiates from every corner of the desolate city, making Boyle’s environment feel harrowingly real, even inevitable. The song aims to unsettle, disarm, and incite reflection on the devastating fragility of our society. Like most of Godspeed’s music, it is the soundtrack of an ailing world.
These apocalyptic tendencies remain firmly intact on their newest album, “Luciferian Towers”, albeit with one crucial difference: this time around, Godspeed don’t seek to drag the listener through the mire of a dying world. Instead, “…Towers” is a grandiose, triumphant statement that calls for the end while demanding something better. And though it’s difficult to lay out a comprehensive plan for supplanting an established global order over the course of a forty-five-minute post-rock record, the inspiring scope and ideological continuity of “Luciferian Towers” suggests that Godspeed is assured of one thing: the necessity of its collapse.
Due to its lofty mission statement, “…Towers” would have surely faltered if the music lacked the same fervent immediacy. Thankfully, the songs are bright, dynamic, and earnest. The loud sections are unrelenting, whereas the lulls still simmer with anticipatory energy. The brunt of the record is shouldered by two three-part behemoths. “Bosses Hang” and “Anthem For No State” are some of the heaviest, most satisfying arrangements the band has ever written. The former builds up methodically from a churning bass line, incorporating Constantines-esque guitar melodies, swarming strings, and a dynamic drum shuffle that carries the song to successively grander plateaus before the whole thing magnificently breaks. “Anthem For No State” begins with a rare moment of mournful calm that sustains throughout its first two movements, which only serves to accentuate the righteous fury of its third—“Luciferian Towers”’s final proclamation. It’s the song that will ring out should the curtain ever be pulled back on Godspeed’s utopian future.
For all the heightened drama of “Bosses Hang” and “Anthem For No State”, the other two songs on “Luciferian Towers”—opener “Undoing a Luciferian Towers” and interlude “Fam/Famine”—are its thematic centrepieces. The tracks anticipate and call back to one another through their shared use of dissonance and symphonic refrains. Discordant melodies dominate each composition. There is clear movement, but no sense of common direction among the erratic noise. Still, the refrain sits behind it all, hinting at itself through subtle warbles of melody. When it completely cuts through, both songs find a resolution; a harmonious new order barrels out of their disjointed soundscapes. For a band that relies solely on instrumentals to convey a larger social statement, it’s about as clear a message as you’ll find on an album this year. Godspeed is still very much fixated on scoring the end times, but with “Luciferian Towers”, they also try to capture the sounds of a world rebuilt from the ashes of a failing system.