Luciferian Towers: Post-Rock and the Apocalypse

September 7, 2017

 

Alex Epstein

Listen to “Undoing A Luciferian Towers” here.

Montréal post-rock icons Godspeed You! Black Emperor (colloquially, “Godspeed” or “GY!BE”) have vowed to return on September 22nd, 2017, with their four-movement LP Luciferian Towers. Continuing a discography that has been universally acclaimed, artistically challenging, and strongly political; the first track released from their latest, “Undoing A  Luciferian Towers”, evokes a passionately radical thesis in a tight eight minutes.

Aphasic, nonliteral evocation has always been GY!BE’s strength: from the murky field-recording preambles on F#A#∞ to the revulsive history of the Ratko Mladić ‘dedication’ on ‘Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!, context clues and the hints of political intent have stood separate from the music itself. Lyrics and vocals tend to be left to side project Silver Mt. Zion.

The band writes in the ‘liner notes’ of their bandcamp page:

look at that fucking skyline! big lazy money writ in dull marble obelisks! imagine all those buildings much later on, hollowed out and stripped bare of wires and glass, listen- the wind is whistling through all 3,000 of its burning window-holes! 

Evoking the recent Grenfell Tower fire most vividly in this expression, and by extension the entirely avoidable tragedy of its austerity, they allude further in the cover art –

The building chokes, folding inwards. There’s a pit inside where the beating heart of the sun expands. Dust traces its contours like a radiograph.

The conceptual ‘tower’ is a battery cage, constructed by the lowest bidder. The Luciferian evil exists, as Arendt wrote about Adolf Eichmann, in their sheer banality.

“Undoing A Luciferian Towers” is a denunciation of a society organised enough to build these towers, lofty skyscrapers and cities, but not empathetic enough to do so with any humanistic intent.

Metaphorically, this imagery also suggests the fulcrum of the 21st century, September 11th; or some apocalyptic extinction. GY!BE speak of destruction with pure awe – where T.S. Eliot saw hopelessness in desolation, they can’t help seeing majesty.

Prominently incorporating saxophone, flute, electronics, trumpet, as well as characteristic guitar, drums and violin, “Undoing A Luciferian Towers” lumbers forward, like a coal-fired train that never quite picks up speed. In doing so, it’s heavy – never fast, but with such momentum that some ultimate resolution feels inevitable. Underlaid the whole way through by this limping, droning beat, the track builds itself with progressive key changes throughout. Each new key is a plateau, an epoch, a note in a simple melody that has been held, magnified, for long enough to glimpse the microscopic harmonies and flourishes within.

Leaping from chord to dischord, tension to frustration to resolution, violin to saxophone, 1812 field music to Phrygian-dominant synthesiser; every second, every shift, every drone, is just as fully articulated as the next. It is a historical narrative of sorts, told entirely in Kafkaesque icons that cloud and confound their literal counterparts.

Like in a Christian hymn – the kind evoked by its anthemic, thematic coda – post-rock’s affective power is in the way it yearns to embody something metaphysical. Regardless of how this is understood by the listener, the salient political edge of “Undoing A Luciferian Towers” is difficult to ignore. Doing so would be a disservice to modern music as modern art.

This is the way the world ends.

GY!BE’s music has always been Guernica-esque – helplessness, terror, destruction – “and for what?”, it asks. There is no Kurtz at the end of the river, victorious good nor realised evil. “Undoing A Luciferian Towers” ends haphazardly, like the last fragments of Columbia descending to Earth, or the last wafts of dusty smoke from an incinerated tower block.

You can look forward to such other cheery tracks like Bosses Hang (parts I-III), Fam-Famine, and Anthem for No State (parts I-III) on September 22nd, for $9 USD (or more!).