Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Godflesh - Us and Them

Godflesh - Us and Them
1999, Earache

Godflesh's albums have always been somewhat of a secret pleasure for me ever since their second release, the monumentally popular and influential 'Streetcleaner'. Godflesh was one of those Earache bands spread to the masses by the readily-available Grindcrusher compilation, and their song on that release was probably one of the most ear-catching, if not the single best track included. So where has Godflesh gone to since those seminal days? Into uncharted territory, really, into realms where nobody can even follow them. Make no mistake, this is not 'popular' music in any sense of the term, even though it may masquerade as such, or hide under the mask of pop sensibility. Godflesh has always been about Justin Broadrick's personal agenda and his own tortured emotional expression, little else can be touched upon in his music.

After 'Streetcleaner' and the heavier-than-thou crushing pulses of 'Pure' Godflesh seemed to lose steam for a time, stalling in a number of single releases or only appearing in the vicarious disguises of Justin's side-projects. At that time it was supposed that the 'Flesh had lost their edge, and that this duo had nowhere left to turn. I never believed that.

With this album Godflesh have once again created political statements of intent that are completely genre-defying in their savagery. Their former will-to-brutality has been honed to a razor's edge, and only appears when it is called upon to enunciate or highlight a point that can not be convincing otherwise. They are still very much all about power and its uses.

What is the most interesting for me about this album is the added illusion of accessibility, once again. This is music that could very well be played on the radio, because it shares pop music's catchiness, its melodic gift, and the trance-inducing nature of its dependence on repetition. Of course this will never see radio airplay. Why? Because it's still much too violent in its attack on 'reality', on its audience's perceptions. Godflesh has always been about transcendence, about the escape from slavery, about the will to freedom. It is as much anti-pop and it is a demonstration of post-punk aesthetics - of where post-punk music SHOULD have gone, instead of onto the airwaves.

In terms of the music, Godflesh once again utilize samples, breakbeats, and short terse guitar hooks to draw the listener into the songs. But this is a far more organic release than any we've seen from this duo in a long time - because even with all the samples and programmed drums, this music is palpably human - Godflesh have crafted new instruments to use in their expression, but have not been subdued by the machines. They have instead taught the machines the language of human emotion, and allowed them to echo their creator's wills. This is also a much noisier Godflesh, heralding the return of Justin's massive guitar screams, wails, and moans - something we have not really heard since 'Streetcleaner'.

But what I really love about this band's music is the place that it always takes you to: it gives glimpses of a completely different world than the one we normally inhabit. And at its best, it becomes completely ethereal in the midst of its own shocking brutality. This album is no different, it contains select parts that are absolutely hypnotic in their auditory influence, especially the second part of the title track.

So is this album worth purchasing? Absolutely. If you are a Godflesh fan then you will already have this, but if you are new to Godflesh I would caution you: in order to grasp the full effect of this release you should be aware of this band's evolution - try starting from the beginning. Or don't...the choice is up to you.