Where should one even begin when describing this group? They are one of the absolute legends of extreme music, whose works shall withstand the test of time and who will always be ranked among the best of the best. They are true revolutionaries and innovators. They are the fucking shit.
They are also as equally uninfluential as they are well-known and highly regarded. They are rarely mentioned as any artist’s primary musical reference point or any poor soul’s gateway into the abyss. Nobody complains about the influx of Godflesh clones. And rightfully so, because there are none.
This dichotomy may seem weird at first, but maybe it can be understood by accepting the fact that the Godflesh sound, no matter how timeless, was a product of its era. During the late 80s, most forms of extreme music were all establishing some kind of combination of sound and aesthetics, while maintaining the still ongoing cross-fertilization between genres ranging from death/black metal and grindcore to the apocalyptic industrial side of neo-folk and the burgeoning noise scene.
Godflesh was a crossroads where all these styles came together, morphing into something previously unheard of; something that didn’t really resemble any of its ascendants yet carried traces of all of them in its DNA. And, as if this wasn’t enough, Godflesh also started to immediately draw influence from whatever the fuck they wanted – extreme or not – and continued successfully doing so until their demise in 2002.
In today’s cynical landscape, this kind of adventurousness would be deemed gimmicky on the spot (or too ambitious at least). Godflesh was born during a period when it was still acceptable to try to find one’s feet through uncontrolled experimentation, even if that meant having no filter when it comes to reference material and releasing a clunker or two…which Godflesh obviously did.
The echoes of this titanic clash of different styles, genres and attitudes still resound today, and it seems that they never have and never will stop haunting their primus motor, Mr. Justin Broadrick, who continued his everlasting sonic excavation with the equally brilliant yet more inconsistent Jesu and, finally, just when the crotches of the Godflesh fans’ jeans were about to burst by the sheer power of excited anticipation, reformed Godflesh in 2010.
To celebrate the recent release of the first post-rebirth Godflesh recording, Decline & Fall, our Last Rites devotees picked what they think are the thirteen best cuts from the band’s mammoth discography. If you’re new to the band, this presents an ideal opportunity to start digging your way into their recorded history. To those more or less familiar with the work of Broadrick & Co., please feel free to educate others and cry about the glaring omissions.
Most importantly, let’s make the most of their second coming, because after they are gone there will never be songs like these again.
• • • • •
CRUSH MY SOUL[Selfless, 1994]
It’s rare for a bass player to be as important to a band as G.C. Green is to Godflesh. Without his rattle locking down the low end, a song like “Crush My Soul” could be interchangeable with any number of me-too industrial bands trying to get on around this time period (if you don’t recall, the mid-90s were a mess of acts trying to snatch up that “Juke Joint Jezebel” touring dough). Instead, the jangle-jangle groove Green lays down tempers the hi-hat heavy programming, setting this one’s tone as a landscape of abandoned buildings and abandoned hope. It’s no wonder his departure shut the unit down for nearly a decade; he truly is the spine to Broadrick’s skullpiece.
• • • • •
Coming off the soul-breaking intensity of Streetcleaner and Slavestate, Godflesh’s third album feels positively upbeat, though it’s certainly no peaceful walk in the park. Riding an almost dance-y drumbeat, reflecting Broadrick’s interest in hip-hop and the like, “Mothra” is one of that album’s highest highs – that beat begets a bouncy and hypnotic riff, the tandem bashing a groove deep enough to hold a kaiju. Ambient noise elements creep in during the breakdown, barely audible crackles and scrapes, some distant destruction or the rumblings of a giant monster awakening. The riff repeats; the groove widens; the monster emerges; Tokyo is destroyed to a killer beat.
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MIGHTY TRUST KRUSHER[Streatcleaner, 1989]
Picking a more famous track from Streetcleaner than “Mighty Trust Krusher” would be easy – either of the opening monsters would fit the bill – but a more important song, the album does not have. Five-plus minutes of agony, desperation, and wanting, the song captivates listeners by blanketing them in a dissonant, horrific atmosphere. Without this song, the 10-minute deconstruction that precedes it would feel pointless, while the machinations that follow (including the climactic title track) would not be nearly as leveling. This is the linchpin that holds the masterpiece together.
• • • • •
By the release of Hymns, Godflesh had been delivering tales of annihilation for ages, but “Jesu” brought an extra level of determination in making you to realize that you are helpless to the forces around you; that we are helpless to the forces around us. The entire brutally (BRUTALLY) heavy track is like a countdown to the end—not to some mythical apocalypse or final battle, but to emptiness. One riff maintains its persistence alongside equally persistent drums, all the while dissonance builds on top like some trans-dimensional pipe organ. The sound of hopeless finality is rarely so convincing. Come get crushed by nature’s giant boot.
• • • • •
I WASN’T BORN TO FOLLOW[Pure, 1992]
One of the great things about Godflesh is that circa Pure, Broadrick seemed to figure out exactly where to interject just the right amount of melody, and “I Wasn’t Born To Follow” is a perfect early example. The chorus has this catchy, stick-in-the-brain, hummable quality to it that you don’t usually associate with the typical giant-garbage-compactor-malfunction riffs of early Godflesh. The music, a pulsing march that brings to mind themes in Vangelis’ Blade Runner soundtrack, is lifted by a soaring, longing vocal chorus that is a departure for Godflesh for the time. But it’s the perfect liftoff point for where Broadrick would later go with Jesu. One of my favorites in the Godflesh canon.
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DEAF, DUMB, AND BLIND[Hymns, 2001]
No one really knew what to expect after Godflesh jumped ship from longtime label Earache following the disappointing Us and Them, and this was compounded by their decision to sign with Koch Records, a label known more for hip hop and WWE entrance theme collections. Hymns turned out to be the sound of a band revitalized, and this track was a prime example of that. It’s unfair, really: Justin Broadrick throws a jangly opening riff that plants itself like a meathook squarely at the base of your neck, then along comes new drummer Ted Parsons to dance all over your face just as G.C. Green’s bass kicks in to steamroll over your flailing, twitching body.
• • • • •
In most ways, “Predominance” fits in perfectly with Pure’s end-of-days-factory-dance-party vibe, especially in how the opening riff/drum combo drives forward like an army of steel-footed soldiers marching down an equally metallic surface. But like other songs on the album, it adds a certain twist that makes it essential to the whole. Here, that twist is intimidation, as exemplified by the foreboding, descending riffs of the chorus. There is also a nakedness to these parts, as the industrial onslaught is somewhat eased, revealing that Godflesh didn’t necessarily need to flex their muscles to maintain supremacy.
• • • • •
If ever there were a seminal track for a band, “Streetcleaner” would be it. Off of their debut LP of the same name, “Streetcleaner”’s repetition of both riff and percussion evoke a sort of nervousness, like something is about to happen, and it isn’t going to be good. And once J.K.’s heavily distorted vocals kick in, all fears are confirmed. This is the kind of nightmarish soundscape mental patients describe before being prescribed psychotropic medication. G.C. Green’s bent and fuzzed-out bass line functions less as a rhythm instrument and more as a backup tank, shelling any survivors of Broadrick’s mortar-fire shredding of what used to be functional strings. Heavy doesn’t even come close to describing this.
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ANYTHING IS MINE[Selfless, 1994]
For many of us, Selfless was the first step down the path into the cold, dark world of Godflesh. One of the brightest torches on that path was “Anything Is Mine”, whose mechanical rhythms were intensified by, surprisingly, polishing the guitar and bass tones, and then putting them together in a way that allows the music to breathe and expand, filling the space with their oppressive sound rather than crushing you with it outright. Yet, they sound as filthy and menacing as ever; the pounding bassline in particular is the audio equivalent of a proper British flogging. Months later, Guitar World included the track in their list of the 50 heaviest riffs of all time.
• • • • •
Full disclosure: “Spite” was the first Godflesh song I ever heard. I found the Pure CD at a used-record store in Kelowna, B.C., circa 1993-ish. I’d read Godflesh’s rather-badass name in a few metal mags by that point, and to randomly stumble upon one of their albums in my neck of the woods was like finding buried treasure. Upon first listen, the psychic-driving thud and plod of “Spite” was like a new lifeform to my ears; juxtaposing the technological advancement of throbbing, electronic drums, with morose, corroded sheet-metal-à-la-Iommi riffs, Godflesh was a form of arcane future-now, and from first listen, I was totally onboard. Pure is an odd place to start with Godflesh, it’s more sterile than their earlier work, but it’s a great indication of the direction they would head into.
• • • • •
CHRISTBAIT RISING[Streetcleaner, 1989]
Giving the questionable honor of following one of the most exhaustive album openers known to man to the longest track of the record simply shows how confident Godflesh were already so early in their career. Indeed, coming right on the heels of the iconic “Like Rats”, “Christbait Rising” got the short end of the stick when marching orders were agreed upon. However, that hasn’t stopped the song from becoming another Godflesh classic, the impact of which can be especially felt as the monstrous culmination of a monstrous record.
Deservedly worshipped by the fans, “Christbait Rising” is a textbook example of the early Godflesh playbook exploited to its full potential. It kicks off with the usual mid-paced industrial romp amplified by layered repetitive shouts, creating an unnerving tension that is finally released by a jarring mid-song bridge-verse-bridge section which almost brings the whole composition to a grinding halt. Quickly picking up the pieces, the song grows back an orgy of sounds with guitars filling the airspace with massive dive bombs that drop in perfect harmony with the apocalyptic parade that surrounds them. Bravo.
• • • • •
BLACK BONED ANGEL[Selfless, 1994]
One has to appreciate a band like Godflesh going soft for a bit. J.K. really lets his sensitive side show on “Black Boned Angel”, the third cut from 1994’s Selfless. That’s not to say it isn’t as heavy as the rest of the album, it’s just heavy in the sense that you’ll want to kill yourself when it’s over as opposed to someone else. With the sung vocals almost sitting in the background and the drum programming being as unusually sparse as it is, this cut is actually more hypnotic than intended. It’s tough to put a finger on exactly why getting lost in the seven-minute wave happens, but it does happen every single time.
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LIKE RATS[Streetcleaner, 1989]
The “heavy” in heavy metal means different things to different people, but when Streetcleaner dropped in 1989, there was virtually nothing heavier. The first track on that bomb-blast, “Like Rats” is perfect Godflesh, a blend of Swans’ ugly-duckling no-wave brutality, Einsturzende Neubauten‘s industrialized strum und drang, noise, doom, and pure fury. The heartless crash of the drum machine combines masterfully with the trudge-and-crush riffing, the perfect soul-destroying base beneath Broadrick’s furnace-bellow shouting. The entirety of Streetcleaner is classic, among the heaviest of metal’s greats, but it’s “Like Rats” that sets that vicious tone. Sing it together now: “Breed! Like raaaaaats!”