The Greatest Albums of All Time: Godflesh – “Godflesh” (1988)


This is the one that started it all.
In the early ’90s it seemed that every grindcore, crust, and death metal musician formed a side band that mixed industrial and metal (and every label seemed to have some)- MALFORMED EARTHBORN (featuring members of BRUTAL TRUTH), SPINE-WRENCH (DEVIATED INSTINCT), OPTIMUM WOUND PROFILE (EXTREME NOISE TERROR), MEATHOOK SEED (OBITUARY and NAPALM DEATH), CANDIRU (EXIT 13), BLOOD FROM THE SOUL (NAPALM DEATH), NAILBOMB (SEPULTURA), SKREW (ANGKOR WAT), SCORN (NAPALM DEATH), PUNCTURE (GAMMACIDE) and plenty more.  On top of that, many industrial bands began putting heavy guitars into their sound (MINISTRY, FRONT LINE ASSEMBLY, CONTROLLED BLEEDING (which had members who even formed a side industrial metal band SKIN CHAMBER), KMFDM, ELECTRIC HELLFIRE CLUB, and NINE INCH NAILS) that was not there before, and tons of bands formed who mixed metal and industrial, as well as rock and industrial (RAMMSTEIN, SISTER MACHINE GUN, SOULSTORM, GRAVITY KILLS, PITCH SHIFTER, STABBING WESTWARD, BILE, MACHINES OF LOVING GRACE, STERIL, 16 VOLT, THE CLAY PEOPLE, MARILYN MANSON,  MALHAVOC, tons more).  They owe it all to GODFLESH and their self titled debut  album, which came first and blows most of them away.

The feel is cold and dark.  The guitars sound like bent metal girders that are being grinded together, bathed in feedback with a rhythmic, inhuman drum pounding out the beat.  The vocals are processed howls mixed with echo washed gloomy moans; this album was as heavy as most any death metal band, and as bleak as most any nihilistic industrial band.  The songs bring to mind the soundtrack to a bulldozer crashing through your bedroom wall, but with a bit of a groove to them.

It wasn’t created in a vacuum, of course- you can hear a heavy early period SWANS influence, as well as BIG BLACK and KILLING JOKE mixed with CELTIC FROST.
The members who created this masterpiece were two young men from Birmingham, England- G.C. Green, who came from a KILLING JOKE inspired band called FALL OF BECAUSE; and Justin Broadrick, who came from the grindcore band NAPALM DEATH (tho he only played on the A side of their debut (and best) album Scum).

Godflesh conjures up an atmosphere of cold brutality and depression, but it is still quite catchy in places.  I doubt you’d ever hear any songs off of it on the dance floor, but they mix their dirgy crushers with a couple of upbeat (tho still quite heavy) crashing ragers.  When listened to as a whole, it’s a magnificent piece of work- you hear the word “epic” tossed around so much these days that it’s completely lost it’s meaning, but this album is the essence of the true definition of epic.  Grand.  Powerful.  You really have to hear it to understand.
Most people prefer their follow up album Streetcleaner, which is also excellent and can be described in similar terms, but this self titled debut is the superior release for me.  It came directly out of the punk rock and grind DIY scene (the cover is even a folded up paper cover like C.R.A.S.S. used to use on a lot of the records on their label), on a smaller label (which started as a record store) called Swordfish (while Streetcleaner was produced by the rising indie giant Earache records).  It’s just a bit rawer, more primal and hungry.  The distorted, creepy cover image (a still taken from John Frankenheimer’s film Seconds) is suitably desolate and mysterious looking, but doesn’t prepare you for the pounding you’re about to receive.

It was re-released on cd by Earache with two bonus tracks, both more experimental and non-musical (tho still beat oriented) than the 6 songs on the original version.
They would go on to put out a lot of albums, featuring many different variations on their industrial metal style, mixing in drone, techno, breakbeat, shoegaze (which they also helped invent), and post metal (once again, which they also helped invent), but for me they never recaptured the bleak, epic power and raw grandeur of this debut album.

They’ve recently reformed (after splitting in 2002 during Broadrick’s nervous breakdown) and seem to have returned to their heavier roots (they’ve released one song so far- a cover of the Canadian band SLAUGHTER’s song “F.O.D. (Fuck of Death)”).  I doubt they’ll ever put out another brilliant, game changing album like Godflesh, but we can always hope.

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