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Godflesh – Hymns

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Godflesh - HymnsHi there. Can we talk about Justin Broadrick again? I like talking about Justin Broadrick. What’s that? Hymns remaster? That’ll do nicely. OK, let’s talk!

Justin Broadrick has been responsible for more amazing music under more identities and in more bands than I have written pieces praising them, which is quite a lot. Final, Jesu, Techno Animal, Napalm Death, Pale Sketcher… the list goes on, and keeps expanding. But for most people the primary association on hearing his name will be Godflesh. And that’s no bad thing.

Godflesh were legendary. Godflesh were legendary for a bloody good reason. Godflesh were phenomenal. Between 1989’s Streetcleaner and 2001’s Hymns, they pumped out music like a severed artery, relentless, crushing and, most of all, EXTREMELY fucking heavy. A band with a singular vision, a metal behemoth with a drum machine – and you have to remember, back in the late ’80s the industrial rock “scene” was still very much in the future, and for a band that heavy, that monstrously HUGE, not to have a real drummer was something of an oddity.

Which is what makes Hymns‘ reversal so ironically sweet. Godflesh eschewed the drum machine and brought in Ted Parsons instead, which is a bit like swapping a giant robot for Godzilla – basically it’s different, but you can still smash up as much shit in a major city with it. And this is, after all, the man who was drumming for the almighty Swans on 1987’s Children Of God, when they sounded more like a wounded machine than ever before.

It’s still very much Godflesh, though. Big chunky riffs, grinding bass and a somewhat less than happy Broadrick shouting over the top. But that’s incredibly reductive, and doesn’t really convey the sheer power of a Godflesh release. It’s like being beaten with metal fists, like being sliced in half by a sheet of steel, like being locked inside an enormous machine. If killer robots from the future get earworms, this is what they sound like. But it’s also more open, less claustrophobic than before; it feels more organic, more human. So maybe killer cyborgs from the future, rather than actual robots. It’s an important distinction, I feel, even though they both punch as hard. And they can both dance. “Antihuman” is even what you might call “jaunty”, if you extend the definition of “jaunty” to include “relentless” and “scary”.

But, like Swans, Godflesh found a way to make volume transcendent, to achieve a dark psychedelia by essentially caving in the top of your skull and letting in the cosmic, like a meditation session that’s turned nasty.

While Hymns is firmly rooted in Godflesh’s more physical and metal aspect, it’s this escape into space, of course, that characterises Broadrick’s later work as Jesu, and Hymns is almost like a portal between the two elements of his sound. “Anthems,” for example, kind of soothes its own fires with a sprinkling of melody and a wash of harmony. The closing track is actually called “Jesu,” and with the benefit of hindsight it’s easy to see that as a stepping stone between the two, but it’s probably not that simple, or orchestrated. The song ends, and then there’s a second part, which really does prefigure the heavy shoegaze sound he later perfected. It’s kind of beautiful, really, and is the perfect note on which to end the album.

Except, of course, this being the age of the remaster, there’s a ton (well, maybe not actually a ton, but it’s BLOODY HEAVY, whatever) of extra stuff too – a bunch of demos including the sinister drum’n’bass of “If I Could Only Be What You Want,” which comes on like a pilled-up Henry Rollins and is the last studio recording Godflesh made during their original run.

So yeah, it’s a bit of a curio, and is apparently Broadrick’s own least-favourite Godflesh album. But then, Nick Cave reportedly hated Henry’s Dream, too, so maybe that doesn’t count for much. From where I’m sitting, it’s every bit as tight, monstrous and amazing as any of their other albums, and is also a fascinating document for anyone interested in how Broadrick came to move so smoothly from grindcore to epic shoegaze without dropping a note.

So yeah, it’s pretty smart.

-The Deuteronemu 90210 robot smackdown extravaganza-

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