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Godflesh
Streetcleaner (reissue) Noel Gardner , August 9th, 2010 11:36

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This extensively liner-noted double-CD reissue of the 1989 debut album by Birmingham's most righteous Godflesh comes almost a year after most of their other output on the Earache label was remastered and reissued. I chatted some breeze about it on here at the time, so I won't warm over the observations about the pervasive influence of Birmingham's cement skyline, and how this came under the 'grindcore' umbrella before that became a byword for extreme speed and brevity, and how this band filled an end-of-the-decade void for people that were already missing Big Black and (sludge-mode) Swans but, if they were Britishers, could now see them play a nearby venue for peanuts. Except to confirm that all those things do apply to this juddering earthmover of an album.

It's not going to atomise too many folks' received wisdom if I suggest Streetcleaner is probably the best thing Godflesh ever did, but fuck if I'm gonna lie to you. Plot a graph – a real one, there is probably a program on your computer somewhere – of Godflesh's discography, where [x] is YOUNG RAW ABSENCE OF SHIT GIVEN and [y] is HONED BRUTALITY OF SONICS. This album will be placed furthest from the origin, or I'm a Dutchman. The original nine tracks (the first disc here also now includes the four-song Tiny Tears EP, unreleased on its own but included as CD bonus tracks; CD2 is a twelve-song holdall of demos, rehearsals, live cuts and alternative mixes) effect a great compromise, in a brilliantly uncompromising way, between making a drum machine sound like the consummate heavy metal instrument and making metal guitars sound like their bulk renders them unplayable by human hands. 'Pulp' is on one hand the most un-rock thing on Streetcleaner, on the other its visceral zenith: industrial metal was barely, if at all, a concept at this point, but the lyrics (recognisable words which may as well just be intonations) and singular powerplant drumbeat converge in a manner which satisfies the urges of both genres.

A 'mere' duo of Justin Broadrick and G. Christian Green at the time of this recording, their wires-and-circuits third member often bullies his way to the forefront of the mix. The droning scrape of the guitars – an explicitly Big Black-ish aesthetic – on opening track 'Like Rats' is almost drowned out by the unholy migraine thud; followup song 'Christbait Rising' (Godflesh songtitles regularly walk the line 'twixt wonderful and winceworthy; they came from the angry brain of Broadrick, who was twenty at the time) slaps more bottom end on the guitar, but the machine remains front and centre.

Broadrick's vocals can also make a substantial difference to the extent to – and the manner in – which Streetcleaner whales on you. 'Mighty Trust Krusher' is perhaps his most metallic, macho vocal turn, growling like few had done before him: Michael Gira, Rollins, John Brannon, Tom G Warrior maybe. It's moving, motivating, likely a good soundtrack to a weights session, but not far emotionally removed from the dopiest heavy metal in that regard. On other tracks, 'Like Rats' for example, his style has more of an acid-washed gurgle about it, which along with the song's previously listed elements lends the whole a distinct uneasiness. By the denouement of 'Locust Furnace' (imagine!), Streetcleaner's original closing track, Broadrick is reduced to bellowing “FURNACE" repeatedly, hoarsely and helplessly; the machismo lingers, but comes off as deflated.

The Tiny Tears four-tracker is a muscular, enveloping follow-up, and utterly worth hearing, but as an addendum to the main event here, you may not end up playing it too often. Its production values are notably higher, although this is used for extra force rather than increased gloss; 'Dead Head' sneaks an MBV-nodding ethereality into proceedings, providing perhaps the first stirrings of Broadrick's current band Jesu in his youthful pummel. The content of the second disc is, as pretty much ever, something to help you fathom the band's evolution and context rather than noise essential to the new listener. Had they stuck with the original mix of Streetcleaner, as showcased on tracks one to five here, it would probably still have become a seminal speakerblower, but the palpably rawer nature of the mixes ('Pulp' is almost entirely percussion-based) might have closed off a few doors that aided their eventual crossover. Two live tracks from a set in Geneva – home of conceivable Godflesh antecedent The Young Gods, I might opportunistically note – are recorded more than crisply and sound like they feature sheet metal. Three rehearsal tracks are ripe with wiry scree, although another showing for 'Pulp' – a twelve-minute one! – means that over the entire package, the listener will have been treated/subjected to well over 20 minutes of that one drumbeat. Putting us in the ground are two Tiny Tears demos, even more red and skinless for being recorded on a two-track. Notable here is the original 'Deadhead' (as it was then spelled) demo, a giant bite of 'Fists Of Love' by – sorry to keep beating this horse – Big Black.

And of course it's all been remastered by the now-studio-savvy-as-they-come Broadrick to sound appreciably more imposing, and there are about eighteen inches of liner notes by former Terrorizer editor Jonathan Selzer. He drops some typically smart knowledge in his appraisal, so this seems like a good time to down tools and send you off to get this awesome and vein-burstingly sharp pin in the map of extreme rock music.

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Rich
Aug 9, 2010 5:46pm

I was a total metalhead when I was in my early teens and had nearly the entire Earache catalogue up to about 94/95. Godflesh, and in particular "Streetcleaner" is one of the few albums that has stood the test of time and an ever expanding musical knowledge. Absolute classic.

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simon
Aug 10, 2010 12:51pm

In reply to Rich:

you're not from Walsall are you?

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str8 bro
Aug 10, 2010 1:09pm

"the 1980 debut album..."

this came out in 1989, they weren't THAT ahead of their time.

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Noel
Aug 10, 2010 9:19pm

I'm hoping that the ad revenue will allow the fellas in charge to buy me a typing wand, or lipo for my fat fingers

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SilianRail .
Aug 17, 2010 1:35pm

I prefer Hymns myself, and only ever dare to listen to this through headphones, just in case my housemates decide they need to start hiding all the sharp implements from the kitchen...

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