I first heard Godflesh on their label Earache’s “Grindcrusher” sampler (yes, the one with the yellow cover) – which was available only as an import at the time and which also led me to such wonders as Morbid Angel, Terrorizer, Carcass, Bolt Thrower, etc. At the time this was the most exciting music coming out of the European metal scene – and Godflesh, who never really fit in with any of these other bands and who were saddled with the “grindcore” label even though that genre was a million miles away from their sound, were the most exciting band. Why? One listen to the first two songs on this album will tell you. Godflesh take the basic mechanisms of death metal, industrial (think Throbbing Gristle, not NIN), and psychedelia and tear that machinery apart – only to reassemble the collected elements in a completely idiosyncratic fashion. At the time there wasn’t another band on Earth who sounded like Godflesh – now there are legions of copycats and followers, and this album has “influenced” so many musicians it is ridiculous. Godflesh is just original. I believe this album is their most “pure” expression in that it is the most experimental, and the melodies and rhythms used are the most expressive and atmospheric out of all their songs. Every one of these songs – including the bonus tracks – is just simply breathtaking. Listen to a whole new genre, style, and way of looking at “heavy” music being invented right here. Yes, it is crushing, brutal, aggressive, angry, and (at times) frightening – but it is also flowing, lyrical, multilayered, dense, expansive, and deeply soothing. A creative force at their most innovative time.
With their newest epic, Pelican bring on new levels of complexities to their already distinctive auditory stamp. Acoustic guitars take their place beside the group’s traditional (read: highly amplified) power-droning and awe-inspiring instrumental anthems. Whether this signals the end of the underground musical landscape as we know it, or the beginning of a new one is anyone’s guess. Luckily, it rules either way. They’ve toured with Low, Tortoise, Isis, Mono, Cave In, Daughters, The Bronx, A.R.E., Weapons, US Maple, and more.
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So, you are into Nine Inch Nails and Marilyn Manson. Perhaps, you went even deeper and checked out Ministry and Skinny Puppy. Yeah, there really is no such thing as “industrial” music… at least there is no concrete definition of it. To some people, the commercial friendly music of NIN is industrial, or the hollow shock rock antics of Marilyn Manson. Other people will tell you that Skinny Puppy is “true” industrial and that everything else is a waste of time. I don’t know… have they heard of Godflesh? Out of all those bands, Godflesh is the only band I could picture listening to while driving through the decayed center of an urban city. Godflesh lives in this world. It lives in a world of burnt down houses, graffiti decorated buildings, and old factories. Godflesh is the ultimate soundtrack to the apocalypse….
Streetcleaner is Godflesh’s most chaotic record. In many ways, it is a huge expansion on the sound that is found in The Swans’ Cop album. It also came out before the band experimented with hip hop, electronica, and more rock orientated structures. And even though Justin has put out a ton of really good material, Streetcleaner is something that is going to stay with him forever. To some people, it is the best thing he has ever done. I can see why. It is a very abstract, surreal, and unique record.
Back in college I used to be a DJ at WKNC in Raleigh, NC. A place that specialized in metal and home of Corrosion of Conformity. I picked this CD up one day while browsing online and NOW I remember why I LOVED these guys. “Like Rats” is simply one of the most brutal songs I have ever had the pleasure of hearing. “Christbait Rising” is almost as brutal. I saw these guys live back in “the day”. Chaotic guitars, bass and a drum machine. They were booed off the stage of the local metalfest. Now I listen and just dig this CD. It was about 8 years ahead of it’s time. No, this is not the fastest band. No, it’s not the most obscenely fast, gross or technical band. Godflesh is just BRUTAL. Simplistic lyrics repeated over simplistic beats. And it hits you upside the head like a sledgehammer! Harsh guitars give way to an early 90’s sounding drum machine. And it ROCKS! “Breed, like rats”. Repeated over and over…. it’s brutal!!Lyrics are just growled enough to understand and the beat is constant. Yeah, it’s a drum machine but it is HEAVY! Syncopated rhythms that do not stop. They keep on hitting you upside the head. God, I LOVE this CD. It’s nothing that you have not heard before. Growling vocals, slamming guitars and a mediocre drum machine. However, this album continues to bludgeon you with it’s intensity. Not a feel-good CD. Just something to put on when you are (angry) at the world or just want to relive the “glory days” of youth. I swear, 10 years later, I still feel the heaviness of this CD reverberate deep within my bones….
There is no pretense on this album- no “look what I can do”, no “look how many words I know”…just complete and utter oblivion. Majestically crushing, and unrepentantly dark and morose- this is a truly unique and self-dissolving piece of plastic. You completely lose yourself into it. Not to mention, it kicks an a$$ or two. Like Rats and Christbait Rising (a favorite- “don’t hold me back/ this is my own hell”) are immaculate. Really not recommended for people who don’t appreciate crushing, dark music, but those who do will love it. I place it with Swans’ Great Annihilator (that’s more cereberal), Burzum’s Hvist Lyset Tar Oss (that’s more evil), and Ministry’s Filthpig (that’s sleazier), as the grand dukes of crushing spaciousness. This is more the “city” version of those, if that makes sense. If when someone says “Industrial”, you think VNV Nation, and “Metal” you think “Iron Maiden”, you’ll hate this. This is completely it’s own animal, and you will either hate it or love it. I love it, but these guys are despised by some people I play it for. It doesn’t get much darker than this- there are hundreds of metal bands that could learn what real darkness sounds like from this cd. Not a cd for parties by a long shot, but somehow both aggressive and soothing at the same time, I usually listen to it when I’m by myself and either reading or screwing with photoshop. Buy it if you like looking the beast in the face, and tell him I said hi.
Godflesh, Streetcleaner (Roadrunner, 1991)
I cannot imagine what sheer and utter joy a select few had upon buying this album, slipping it into the CD player, and hearing it for the first time. I discovered Godflesh later (with the “Slavestate” single), and by the time I got around to buying a copy of Streetcleaner, I already knew Slavestate and Pure backwards and forwards. So I was ready for the opening bars of “Like Rats,” and I knew what I was about to hear, more or less.
But oh, my, what it must have been to hear something so thoroughly brutal and unrestrained, with lyrics that wouldn’t overly confuse a bright six-year-old and a repetitive drum line that sounds like it was created on a cruelly cheap Roland (mainly because it was), and yet at the same time have all that coalesce into the work of profound beauty that is Streetcleaner.
There is something about certain pop bands that defies all logic. Somehow, they take all that is worst about pop music, put it all together, and come up with pure delight. You know the feeling– when a band you’ve always thought to be as talented as a terrarium full of sea slugs (say, Sneaker Pimps) comes up with something that you not only don’t clutch your ears in pain when you hear it, but you actually want to listen to it again (say, “6 Underground,” the Nellee Hooper mix). Godflesh are like that, but they managed to do it for two albums and a handful of singles. Every song. On every record. Think about it for a second. Either there was some sort of weird electromagnetic field surrounding them, or they were the luckiest band in existence. Of course, having friends like John Zorn, Bill Laswell, and Mick Harris (collectively, PainKiller, for whom the Godflesh boys recorded some tracks) probably helped as well.
One way or the other, though, Streetcleaner will melt your head. You’ve never heard anything like “Christbait Rising” before, and it’s not terribly likely you ever will again. An essential album of the nineties. *****