(DGR wrote the following review of the new EP by Godflesh.)
When a band like Godflesh decide to put out new material after an extended hiatus it is an important moment. Like At The Gates, Carcass, and Meshuggah as well, Godflesh have put put albums that have launched whole genres and sounds. Vast numbers of bands could trace their geneologies back to these bands based on their chosen genre. In the case of Godflesh it is a tree whose branches are many and whose roots run deep. They in particular have affected many bands who may not even be able to pinpoint the source of the influence. I’m not the hugest follower of Justin Broadrick, but even I recognize the name, as well as the work he’s done with Jesu over the years and his stint in Napalm Death, among his many other projects that have always landed on the periphery of my music listening’s vision. That’s why, when bands like this reform with new material, it is important.
There is a sense of the elder band showing the upstarts how it’s done, but there’s also the more anthropologically sound idea that you’re revisiting the very start of something big, something that feels pure. You know you’re hearing the music of a band whose sound inspired so many other groups years ago, the sound that launched a genre or two, the sound that so many bands latched onto, which over time was watered down or hybridized by others. In cases such as this, you really do hope that the progenitor group’s new material holds up. Not only that, you hope it holds up a mirror to the bands who have descended from them and were inspired by them, with the wish that it will either define or redefine a sound that has been lost or long since changed.
This was something I hoped Meshuggah would do with Koloss, along about the time of the mighty djent train that has since gone in so many different directions that the name means nothing and has since been co-opted into “tech metal” and “progressive metal”. It was something Carcass for sure did with their latest release — showing the importance of how strong a super fucking good riff could be and how you could craft whole death metal songs out some of the meatiest guitar playing out there. Carcass had helped define that phenomenon for a long period of their career, and Surgical Steel not only proved they are still masters of it, but it also helped shine a light on something that had been lost to a degree. It is something I also hope At The Gates will do for the melo-death scene as it now stands, though I imagine those goal posts are so far out there that whatever they put out will be super-polarizing.
In the case of Godflesh’s new material, their first in more than a decade (other than their cover song last year), it’s a demonstration of the programming work and sludge filled-guitar playing, the crashing rhythm section and the pulsating beats that would be added alongside it, the fusion of fuzzed-out doom with industrial and overwhelming guitar, the sound that launched so much in the music scene that would later be co-opted by so many. Decline and Fall is both a reiteration of what Godflesh have already accomplished and a statement that it can still be done well.
Decline and Fall comes as a pre-release EP in advance of a planned full-length known as World Lit Only By Fire — according to the almighty Wikipedia. It is a four-track release with two bonus songs (attached to it on some versions) that are remixes — to the titles of which the band have added the suffix DUB.
My experience with Godflesh has been limited, so I figured I needed a little perspective. As it stands, the only two albums I own by them are Streetcleaner and Pure, which I received from a friend at the height of the nu-metal craze when I was just starting to get into heavy metal. I was informed that those two discs were older, but were the albums many of the groups of that time were biting off of.
Keep in mind that due to my age I was only two and five when those albums first hit, so my exploration of the band, as well as the anthropological analysis with which I approached these two albums, came long after the band had hung up their hats and moved on to other projects back in 2001. Which means I am pretty much every fair-weather industrial fan out there today, and have no idea of the cultural influence of the band outside of the occasional raised eyebrow at seeing a dude in a Streetcleaner shirt (pre-reunion) out on the streets, and of course am a total piece of garbage. Having said that, when you have a band who are a such a huge influence on so many and had achieved a pretty big level of popularity themselves, you do instantly recognize them as the starting point for so many of the sounds that seemed to ripple through those artists who you thought were so original and awesome at the time. It was the sense that they were the shock wave and everything after them in the artists that you enjoy has been an aftershock.
There’s always a sense with discs such as this one from groundbreaking groups that, when done right, the band never left in the first place. Decline and Fall feels like that, and it makes no compromises for people who may be new to Godflesh and are checking them out for the first time based on the pedigree they’ve established over time.
“Ringer” is a six-and-a-half-minute grind, filled with dispassionate vocals, distant and wailing with no real tune, that is punctuated by a driving drum machine. The constant beat behind the song is monotonous and martial, merciless in its refusal to let up — and because of this, “Ringer” is one of those songs that will pry its way into your skull and park firmly on your brain. “Dogbite” chops the run time in half and makes the sound a bit catchier, moving the drums into a light tribal territory and then burying it under layers of downtuned guitar and bass that just chugs along — falling downward on the listener — with the vocals barked as if giving orders. It’s a much more intense song than “Ringer”, but neither tune is fast-paced. Decline and Fall is built upon a foundation of slow-moving, murk-covered songs that are lightly invaded by industrial elements. There’s a hint of malice to all of it; at the very least, Godflesh are doing their best to make Decline and Fall unnerving.
Those two songs are pretty much the templates of what makes up the EP, although the title track and “Playing With Fire” have their merits. “Playing With Fire” follows the “Ringer” style of vocals, but ratchets up the intensity with the shouting of ‘Its all Pain! There’s no gain!’ that punctuates what could maybe qualify as a chorus. It’s also probably the most metal of the four songs on the EP and one of the catchiest. Even though it also delivers a six-minute runtime, it feels really short and on this end has been one of the tracks on constant repeat, especially the bonus DUB edition included on some versions of this EP. That bonus is a bit more menacing on the electronic side of things, and sometimes I find myself digging it more than the regular one. Back to back, the two versions sound like a twelve-minute drone tune that just steadily ratchets up over time.
“Decline and Fall” is probably the slowest of all the songs and also ranks with “Playing With Fire” as one of the heaviest, especially with its vocals descending lower into the growled territory.
While I am not a rabid or especially well-educated Godflesh fan, what I can say is that Decline and Fall is an intense experience that takes very basic layers of music and builds them into an atmospheric work of gargantuan proportion. This EP just feels huge, especially given its dedication to the low end of the sound spectrum. When listening to it, you do definitely get a sense of how this band could have inspired a generation of musicians. The bass guitar on Decline and Fall is prominent and it sounds so loose here that the notes barely register — it’s just one constant chug that sounds more and more like the drum lines following it as you get deeper into the EP. The guitars follow a similar path throughout. When you line up to listen to this EP, you’re lining up to be punished and drowned in sound. It takes the word “heavy” and amplifies it into a crushing experience. The industrial elements aren’t played up to be abrasive; in fact, they’re one of the few elements of respite. Instead, the more natural sounding instruments are broken and contorted into a mass of jangling noise that has some melody to it but overall serves to punish the listener.
To repeat, it’s an intense experience, and if the rumors of World Lit Only By Fire are true and the band can keep it to a schedule of completion this year, we’re not far away from another intense release that could be a textbook about the true merits of a slow crawl and grind, proving that such sounds can be just as fierce and frightening as the hyper-speed, bombastic, or drowned and cave-like death metal that we cover here regularly.
This EP is amazing. Godflesh are one of my fave bands. I recommend you revisiting their back catalogue, I can’t pick favourites, but try Selfless and Songs of Love and Hate.
I’m quite excited to have new Godflesh material, but I’m a little confused by this EP-that-precedes-the-new-album ploy. Decline and Fall is pretty cool, but it’s surprisingly traditional for the band, none of whose previous albums is particularly similar to its neighbours in the discography. in fact, it rather reminds me of when Messiah was released, years after its recording; DaF sounds like a throwback to earlier recordings, evoking perhaps Us and Them and Messiah itself more than anything else.
I wonder if this is a way to assuage fears that “they’ve changed, man!”. Perhaps the album is more of a departure from their earlier sound, and they wanted to first release something more familiar to provoke a more receptive climate for change. At least, that’s what I’m hoping. Otherwise, I can’t really see why they would lead with an EP, especially one without anything that you might construe as a ‘single’.
That said, there’s a kind of perfect blend of sounds in Godflesh – the massive bass rumble, the relentlessness of the beats, and Justin’s different vocal styles matched to various guitar timbres. More, please!