Tuesday 20 June 2023

Godflesh - Purge (2023)

Country: UK
Style: Industrial Metal
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 9 Jun 2023
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It's pretty much a given to point out that Godflesh are an acquired taste, but their extreme sound is a fascinating one. I'm no expert, but I'm told that this ninth album by them hearkens back to an earlier release, 1992's Pure, which has been retroactively regarded as one of the first releases in a genre that's become known as post-metal. What it boils down to is a combination of wall of sound guitars right out of extreme metal, shouted vocals that doesn't always remind of hardcore shouts and programmed drums that often drift into hip hop beats.

It's a unique and fascinating approach and it trawls a lot of different influences together that we'd rarely hear in the same sentence. Land Lord, for instance, sounds like a merger of the Prodigy with Monotheist-era Celtic Frost. Justin Broadrick certainly channels some Tom G. Warrior in his vocals on this one. However, his guitar often shifts into a sort of Rage Against the Machine feedback vibe for emphasis. There's also a serious reliance on repetition, which works for heavy industrial metal, of course, but also reminds of early avant garde pioneers like Coil or Einstürzende Neubauten and the experimental rock band Swans.

With such a focus on repetition, it's often easier to listen to these pieces of music as a form of dark meditation or a mood setter rather than as songs per se. Industrial was named because of how its sound resembled the sound of an industrial society and this album is often like hanging out in a big and noisy factory and filtering out the people to soak in the ambience of pounding machinery and, in the spirit of John Cage, hearing its rhythms and pitches become music. As such, it's not perhaps too surprising to hear Kraftwerk here on pieces like Lazarus Leper, even Philip Glass in the opener and initial single, Nero.

Another way to look at it is the way that Broadrick himself looks at it. Purge isn't just the title of a Godflesh album, it's the word he uses to describe the way he uses the music he creates with bassist and fellow programmer Ben Green as a "temporary relief" from autism and PTSD. It seems like it's a dark refuge but then Broadrick was a member of Napalm Death for a while; he's on the first side of their debut album, Scum, but left before the second was recorded. This slower, but just as heavy music, with its rigid repetition, could easily be seen as a hypnotic dirge for fans of extreme sounds. I salute it even more if it has therapeutic qualities.

Which tracks leap out to grab people may depend on taste but I'm not finding any real logic to it. It doesn't surprise me that I dig Land Lord, with its up tempo beats and echoes of Celtic Frost, but I'd suggest that Mythology of Self trawls in the Frosties too and I'm not as fond of that one. Why? I'm not entirely sure. It's slower and even more bludgeoning and the vocals are harsher. I ought to dig it more than I do, but it just didn't connect. On the other hand, I'd easily list The Father as another favourite and that's far more subtle, with the guitars lower in the mix and a very different texture.

At the end of the day, of course, this isn't going to convert anyone. If you're into Godflesh's brutal and uniquely uncompromising sonic assaults, then this is another must purchase for you. If you're not, then this isn't going to be a Road to Damascus moment for you. You're not going to discover a sudden appreciation. The only new fans it's going to find are those who hear Godflesh for the first time here, which is not particularly likely in an algorithm-driven era of tailored recommendations. And, right now, you know which of those three categories you are. If you're not the first two, what does this review prompt you to do? If it's to run screaming into the night, it's not for you, but, if it's piquing your interest, let me be the one to introduce you to something new.

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