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Godflesh
Slavestate, Pure, Cold World reissues Noel Gardner , August 21st, 2009 06:30

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Birmingham, where lush, rolling fields and shimmering ocean views are conspicuous by their absence, has often had its musical output contextualised in terms of the harsh industrial aesthetic that defines much of the city. Godflesh, a machine-powered experimental metal band who formed there in 1988 and separated in 2002, were a prime example — second only to Black Sabbath, perhaps. It's tempting to overstate these geographical signifiers, however; Justin Broadrick (one half of the core Godflesh duo with G.C. Green) had already spent several years immersed in the noise/industrial tape-trading scene, where one's location was mainly significant for the purpose of posting sick new sonics to correspondents, by the time the band formed. Yet if Detroit techno can be said to imitate the sounds of production-line angst and teethgrinding desire for escape, it's not outlandish to attach similar concepts to the output of Godflesh.

Metal on metal on more metal, piston-like rhythms, overworked electronics, growled soundbite lyrics about enslavement, routine and nihilism: Broadrick (currently recording as Jesu and Final) and Green built a career on these. Metallica, Korn and Fear Factory are among their Famous Fans, not that this ever bought them riches. Their albums have drifted in and out of print over time, so kudos to Earache for these two triple-disc reissues — most, although not all, of their output for the label. We list Pure, Cold World and Slavestate in that order only because that's the order they're listed on the card outer sleeve; Slavestate arrived first, in 1991, followed by the four-track Cold World EP the same year, and Pure in early '92. Godflesh's early-90s tenure was marked by a furiously prolific rate of creation — something Broadrick has retained, especially since forming Jesu and untangling himself from most of the demands of the modern music industry.

Opening with the title track, Slavestate starts fairly inauspiciously — seemingly influenced by a murky combo of dancefloor-ready industrialism a la Wax Trax Records and the harder strain of techno developing in cities such as Belgium and New York. Objectively, though, it's much better to think of Godflesh as analogous to the evolution of extreme dance music, rather than part of it: Techno Animal, Broadrick's bass-choked hookup with Kevin 'The Bug' Martin, had their moments for sure, but the programming here is pretty clunky when pitted against any electronic don of lasting legacy. 'Course, backing an icestorm of nihil-tone guitar and bass, it couldn't sound better, and this is where they step their game up from 1989's (still good, still worthy of a proper reissue) Streetcleaner. 'Meltdown' is the highlight of the EP, its mechanically-altered riffs bulked up to a heaviness that suggests that when Broadrick's pre-Godflesh band Head Of David sardonically referred to their Chicagoan pals as 'Big Black Sabbath' in some liner notes, it sparked an idea in someone's head.

Just over 20 minutes long, Cold World's status in the band's back catalogue as a between-album curio isn't likely to be tested even by being (literally) put into a box with the two surrounding LPs. Rhythms are brought to the fore, vocals scaled back and jumbled among the overt volley of FX abuse; it sounds great but, again, the feeling is of a band trying their hand at something that wasn't really them. Pure, though: oh man, Pure. 'Mothra''s ZZ Top-esque guitar sounds wholly incongruous on paper; on the ones and zeroes, not at all. 'Monotremata' is one of their more overtly Swans-hailing moments tempo-wise, but this heavitude is distinctive and inimitable. Broadrick's lyrics are, for the most part, sparsely spat in line-bursts of four or five words, harking back five or six years to Steve Albini on Big Black's Atomizer. Robert Hampson of then-recently disbanded megalithic rockers Loop joins on second guitar, playing on five of this disc's ten songs; his inversely psychedelic, grey skyrocketing style is palpable here, on the only Godflesh album to which he would contribute.

Songs Of Love And Hate, the first CD on the second collection tackled here, is a divisive artifact amongst old-guard Godflesh fans. In a sense, it was an archetypal release for the Earache label at the time (1996). Grindcore and death metal had ceased to be interesting and/or profitable to the imprint's string-pullers as they embarked on an ill-fated licensing deal with a major in the US, and reacted to the fallout by releasing a bizarre (if by no means all bad) mishmash of metal subgenres with a side-dish of electronica and gabba. This was a very different label to the one that blithely slotted Godflesh onto 'grindcore' compilations in the late-80s; and by the same token, Godflesh were a different band. A — shock of shocks — human drummer features for the first time, and production ethics are more rounded and markedly less abrasive. It still crunches with a concrete persuasion, with cuts like 'Amoral' doing everything you'd expect Godflesh to do, but — and this isn't intended as speculation — nevertheless sounds like it's been sonically tweaked on the advice of a label exec hedging his bets on getting them a support on the Pantera arena tour.

Spring for this wee package and you also get Love And Hate In Dub, a collection of 12 remixed and reverbed-up (in)versions of tracks from the previous studio opus, remixed by the band themselves. It's not exactly 'dub' as Lee Perry would recognise it, and in truth the imagination well seemed to have run a touch dry for this one — although 'Almost Heaven''s treatment (the 'Helldub' — remember when rock remixes all had winceable names like this? Great, wasn't it? No?), is jarring and fearsome, albeit very Techno Animal-esque. Finally, In All Languages — a DVD comprising five Godflesh videos — highlights their attempts at making the band an audio-visual beast, which was pretty well-realised as far as groups on sub-U2 budgets go. Its own sleevenotes admit that it's effectively a companion piece for the curious; the worlds opened up by purchasing Pure et al and submitting oneself at great volume would be the obvious and correct starting point along this road.

A Man from Belgium
Jun 2, 2010 3:01pm

"in cities such as Belgium"

or countries such as Brussels?

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