Despite having been involved in probably about 90% of all British manifestations of all that is heavy, grindy and noisy in the last twenty-odd years, from Napalm Death to Jesu, Justin Broadrick is still only fourteen years old; or at least that’s how he appears. And given that my job here as a critic, is indeed to judge things on appearances, then to all intents and purposes, Mr Broadrick is in fact fourteen years old. Which is why it’s all the more startling to see the dates on these re-released classics. Not only are they actually temporally impossible artifacts, they make me feel really, really old. Definitely at least nine or ten times older than the ever-youthful Mr Broadrick.
Never anything short of prolific, he’s currently trancing out at Kevin Shields-scaring volumes with Jesu as well as nuking the dancehall with Blood Of Heroes, but for many people of a certain age and disposition, his name will always be synonymous with the mighty Godflesh. They were, in many senses, a very post-Thatcherite expression of that immense sheet of styles and sounds which come together under the name industrial music, usually for the purposes of having a fight, or at least some vigorous shagging. Filled with rage, despair and anger, they weren’t the cheeky sonic pranksterism of Throbbing Gristle, or the charming musique concrete experimentalism of Einstürzende Neubauten; nor were they the cyberpunk metal of Nine Inch Nails or Rammstein, nor the bastardised disco of Skinny Puppy, Front 242 or Nitzer Ebb. They weren’t even the grizzled anti-war militarism of Ministry. No, Godflesh were industrial in the way the word is used in business and commerce – they were the sound of meat packing plants, of shipbuilding, of girders falling from very high up indeed and taking someone’s spine out, with no functioning union to get them decent compensation for spending the rest of their life in a chair.
Pure is quite possibly their classic, although as far as I remember they never released anything that was less than awesome. Pure was the moment when, having perfected the brutality and noise they did to a level only ever really matched for pure transcendent brilliance by Swans, they decided to start REALLY living up to their name. Drafting Robert Hampson of Loop in to help out on guitar, they decided to start exploring their more psychedelic potential, while never forgetting their primary mission – that driving, relentless, monolithic brutality. No more did they sound like you were trapped in a burning arms factory with Big Black. Now they sounded like you were trapped in a burning arms factory with Big Black, and you were all on REALLY, REALLY POWERFUL DRUGS. Almost twenty years on, there’s still not much that can match it for pure (c wut i did thar?) intensity, from the point a couple of bars in on “Spite” when the guitar comes in and slices your face off to the very end of closer “Pure II” (something of a departure for the band, being a twenty-minute slice of ambient isolationism, all feedback and ominous drones, and every bit as intense as any of the pounding and pummelling we’ve heard in the previous hour, like Skullflower crossed with Nurse With Wound, or, for a more modern comparison, like Sunn O))) with lots of trebly bits), when you come back to your senses and realise that yes, you ARE still back in your room, and have been all this time (or in my case, last time I listened to it, that I was drunk on a train being stared at by an old lady).
So far, so all-consuming. But that’s not all, for this is a wonderful 3-CD package, so you get the Cold Word and Slavestate EPs as well, (although Slavestate‘s more by way of an album, being almost as long as Pure, though much of it is remixes). Cold World is a riff-heavy beast of a track, with what we quaintly used to call the B side, “Nihil,” being as bleak as its title would suggest, all unfeeling electronics and angry guitars. A couple of remixes fuck with the template in various frightening ways. Yeah, it’s fucking good. Slavestate is another favourite from back in the day, because it was where Godflesh loosened up a little and got funky. Well, they didn’t loosen up, exactly, nor did they get funky in a way you could technically describe as such, but they embraced (or perhaps CRUSHED) the then-current obsession with all things danceable. You could dance to Slavestate, and not just moshing either. Though sooner or later the urge to just start smashing stuff tended to take over. And Slavestate was a bargain anyway, because even back then it included both tracks from the Slateman/Wound EP, which were also both fucking awesome in their own right.
Basically, this package is a box every bit as scary as the Lament Configuration from Hellraiser, and promising as many earthly extremes as that one did too. Approach with care; it hasn’t lost any of its potency over time. But DO approach it; you owe it to yourself to experience this if you haven’t already. And if you have, you owe it to yourself to give it another listen, compare it to over 9,000 of Broadrick’s other projects, and confront the reality that it really IS possible to be a jack of all trades and master them as well. It’s just that not many people can do it. Certainly not me, and almost certainly not you either. I know, it’s a hard thing to come to terms with, but Godflesh were always the best at forcing us to face the harsh realities of life.
What, you wanted a happy ending?
-Deuteronemu 90210 in a burning factory-