You wait an entire generation for a Godflesh record and then two come along at once... And when you’re talking about a band as innovative and influential as Godflesh, you can be sure that people have been waiting their balls off for this baby to arrive.
June’s Decline & Fall EP came after four years of post-reformation gigging and was the band’s first recorded output of original material in 12 years. And while the four tracks were genuinely a welcome addition to the Godflesh canon, they eschewed any attempts at formal innovation and barely acknowledged that any time had passed since the release of Pure in 1992, given that they were a concentrated, brutish blast of foundational industrial metal grind arranged around a rigid framework of sledgehammer machine beats. As good as the EP was, these weren’t tracks to set the planet on fire – but can the same be said for their new album, A World Lit Only By Fire?
The first thing that’s clear is that this album is the sound of a band slightly more relaxed with its own massive legacy and vaguely less worried about what a Godflesh record should sound like in 2014 – which is pretty ironic given how uptight and angst-ridden it is. Ostensibly a track like Shut Me Down doesn’t sound so different to early Godflesh – after all, Justin Broadrick hasn’t (yet?) drawn in strands of current hardcore underground dance music such as dubstep or footwork. But it does open with a hellish fanfare of guitar processed to sound like an Alpine horn and distorted, cut-up loops of human speech and screeching metal underlying the drum machine, giving it a – dare it be said – much less generic feel.
On Life Giver Life Taker, Broadrick allows himself to change gear vocally, singing with a lot of dubby echo on his voice, which calls to mind Killing Joke as much as it does Jesu, rather than featuring him simply roaring like a Cenobite who’s just jumped out of bed onto an upturned plug. Justin Broadrick and bassist Benny Green are comfortable enough to begin flexing their muscles as if it’s not like there aren’t a million internet hardmen lining up to take potshots at them for daring to release new material. But as much as A World… must feel like sacrilege to some, this is a clear-cut case of them dealing with unfinished business. For a band with such an apocalyptically strong debut album (Streetcleaner, 1989), it was unseemly the way they derailed with the misstep of recording the overly polished Hymns (2001) in a mainstream studio before dying completely the following year with a whimper rather than a bang. Even if they were never to record another note, this album would make a much more fitting bookend to the band’s history. Any fears that Broadrick becoming a dad and middle-aged would somehow prevent him from locating his inner rancour while recording new material are dispelled immediately by tracks such as Carrion, which find him at his most stentorian and demonic-sounding to date. And so Godflesh are back, fighting close to full strength, still burning with intensity and as heavy as hell.
HOW HAS THE MOVE FROM BIRMINGHAM TO WALES AFFECTED THE NEW ALBUM?
“Godflesh wasn’t just a product of its environment. It was personal, it was as much as anything my response to the environment, my sensitivity to the school, my family: all these experiences came together to make what was the Godflesh sound. And of course we grow. Sometimes you grow away from it, sometimes we don’t. Godflesh can be cathartic, but it doesn’t end. You’re never cleansed of this, it just becomes more articulate, and the grey areas remain grey.”
THE ART OF REPETITION HAS BEEN LARGELY FORGOTTEN OF LATE. DO YOU THINK THIS WILL BE A SHOCK TO SOME?
“Yeah, Godflesh still gets ‘repetition’ levelled at it as a negative thing. For me it’s one of the most positive elements of the band. That will probably polarise people with this new record. It is not an ego-centric record, it’s not showing off in any sense whatsoever. It’s as bare as it gets, just a wall of dissonant but groove-laden and highly textural sound.”
AT THE SAME TIME, YOUR GIGS HAVE ATTRACTED LOTS OF NEW FANS…
“When we reformed we thought we’d be playing only to our generation, but from the first show it was clear that it was made up of a lot of young people, which was exciting. And it’s gone on to be entirely that. It will be interesting to see with A World Lit Only By Fire, particularly in the metal scene, as it’s so splintered. But I’m hoping Godflesh can still be a singular voice in this sea of music.”