With their 1988 self-titled debut EP, British group Godflesh, lacking a drummer—opting instead to use the Alesis HR-16 drum machine—and channeling their industrial Birmingham surroundings, somewhat inadvertently solidified a new breed of extreme music known as industrial metal, as Ministry did to an arguably less metallic degree in the US later that same year with their album, The Land of Rape and Honey. Emerging towards the end of the shred olympics that was 80s metal, the duo of Justin Broadrick and C.G. Green ushered in a rebelliously disparate sound: atmospherically cold and sparse, with guitars omitting walls of distortion and wails of feedback, crushing drum beats, and despairing semi-growled vocals; a sound far removed from what was popular at the time, being stylistically more informed by bands like Throbbing Gristle, Swans and Killing Joke; this was metal with the harsh, misanthropic spirit of no-wave or power electronics.
While their first two—now classic—full-lengths Streetcleaner and Pure stuck with this cold and jagged framework, subsequent releases would see spacier, sometimes shoegaze-y sections (a sound that would later provide the sonic foundation of Broadrick’s band Jesu) and the introduction of hip-hop drum loops and breakbeats. After a hiatus in 2002, they reformed in 2010, releasing A World Only Lit by Fire (2014) and Post-Self (2017), Broadrick adding even more crushing weight to their sound with his adoption of 8-string guitars on the records. Their new record, Purge, continues in the same vein and is also a kind of successor to 1992’s Pure; melding the abrasion and noise of their early sound with the crushing low-end of 8-string guitars. Its title alludes to Broadrick’s battles with PTSD and music as a method of emotional purging.
‘Nero’ is an immensely heavy start to the album, with Broadrick’s riffs taking on ever more formidable forms as the track progresses; each bridge more disorientating than the last. ‘Lazarus Leper’ is a mid-album highlight; pounding snares, the seismic rumble of Green’s bass; the hypnotically dissonant drones of semitone intervals that cease only for feedback-driven wails, the post-punk vox that fade out to whispers. The breakbeats of their pre-hiatus era are back, less at the forefront, serving more as a backbone that seems close to shattering under the weight of 8-string riffs and growling bass. ‘Permission’ comes in sounding like a cross between an early 90s nu-skool breaks cut and Motörhead’s ‘Orgasmotron’.
Broadrick is well-known for his works in electronic music—JK Flesh (techno), Techno Animal (illbient), Krackhead (breakcore). These influences were often elemental to Godflesh’s work, and whereas on occasion with their early material the marriage of metal and electronic music seemed over-conscious, on Purge this sonic joinery has never felt sturdier. Closer ‘You are the Judge the Jury and the Executioner’ is an unsettling slow-paced semi-psychedelic concrétegaze hymn; there are brief noisy reprises, but for the most part, Broadrick’s heavily delayed vox make for a shamanic nightmare, as if they were ready to envelop both the instruments and the listener.
Purge is not only significant as for the band’s history, but also a testament to the cyclic nature of influence within heavy music. The down-tuned chromatic riffs, the drum machines, the hip-hop paces, the metal mechanics and anger, all the things that bands like Godflesh catalysed for so many alt- and post-metal bands in the late 90s, and early 00s. Their legacy being what it is, Purge feels strangely as relevant as it does anachronistic. What others polished, sugarcoated or brought into more mainstream territories, Godflesh kept on doing with more aggression, despair and density than any of those they inspired ever could.
Purge is out now via Avalanche Recordings and can be ordered here.
Words: Rory Hughes