GODFLESH - PURGE
DYSTOPIAN INDUSTRIAL INNOVATORS REACH INTO 90s URBAN TENSION
Godflesh are one of those few acts that have, despite the rolling years, retained thoroughbred underground credibility. The band, essentially the duo of Justin Broadrick (vocals, guitar, programming) and BC Green (bass), are regularly cited as originators who melded industrial metal with drum n bass, electronic dance and dark ambience while still being considered heavy. Their conscientious low-profile, however, and consistently uncompromising sound as well as long hiatuses between releases, ensured they are often (though unfairly) mentioned in passing as an influence rather than taking the centre stage in media or magazine covers.
Purge is the first album in six years and the two opening tracks on the record splice neatly into the Godflesh canon and are an early tentative hint that the band have returned authoritively with a sense of purpose and an undiminished aggressive and fidgety psychotic edge. The jangly menace of the neurotic assembly line quasi-march of Nero with its clanging sheet metal is propelled by insistent agitated drum machine beats while Landlord is similar but more savagely up-tempo with a hail of dub beats and ugly hypnotic dissonant riffs and squeals. The dance elements of beats, loops and samples give Godflesh an aesthetic of urban realism that is far removed from the comparative oafishness or theatricality of metal. That is not say Godflesh aren’t heavy. Broadrick’s throaty punk bellow roars through feedback and inharmonious noise like a bear made of static. The demented, repetitive militaristic march of Army of Non with its dirty wobbly base steers more into heavy territory and the sheer tonnage of the crawling steel hulk of Mythology of Self sounds like the output from a dystopian smelter plant.
And yet there are passing traces of light with almost metallic hymnal drafts of soulfulness in a dimly lit, despairing post-industrial vista. The Father with its chanted clean vocals has parallels with some of Broadrick’s more reflective solo work. The finale You are the Judge the Jury and the Executioner is a lingering, sparse eerie industrial odyssey. Lingering soft angle grinding chords mingle with quasi-devotional, haunted clean vocals. The track doesn’t finish with a crescendo but an unnerving fizzling out into the freezing void.
An overarching aspect of Godflesh that is so obvious you can almost overlook it is the sheer punishing weight of their music. Their desolate signature sound was developed decades ago and it makes them both uniquely identifiable but also so profoundly challenging. Admittedly they always intended themselves to be the antithesis of headliner material but the discordant repetitiveness, circular insistent clanging refrains, and the tense atmosphere of visceral urban claustrophobia requires a certain type of listening commitment. Otherwise a Godflesh album in its entirety could leave unwary listeners a gibbering, over-stimulated paranoid mess. Yet this has been their je nais se qua where they stand aside industrial metal acts. At times they sound like a dystopian, metal-plated iteration of the dub-backed ominousness and psychological suspense of Massive Attack or Portishead where heaviosity is psychological. Simplistic loops and drum patterns have deceiving depth and a gritty street realism that’s too light touch and nuanced and thus simply out of reach for more metallic acts. Purge demonstrates how the deftness of the Godflesh sound, now several decades old, can still sound original, cathartic and caustic.
Purge is released via Avalanche Recordings.