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Godflesh live at Boston, MA’s Paradise Rock Club

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For Godflesh, there is power in the riff. The Birmingham, U.K. industrial metal forefathers live and die by it, whittling their music to the bare essentials of a bludgeoning drum machine and the parallel guitar/bass death march of founding members Justin Broadrick and G.C. Green. They play songs that grind you down until you’re consumed by them, caught in a mechanized churn that feels legitimately inescapable. Naturally, it’s a sensation best experienced live.

The closest comparison one might draw to the unrelentingly repetitious stomp that is the essence of Godflesh is probably New York noisemakers Swans at their most primordially vicious, circa Filth or Cop. That project, brought back to life contemporaneously with Godflesh in 2010, has veered off into adventurous and unexpected directions. Broadrick and Green, on the other hand, have brought theirs straight back to its roots. The reactivated duo’s stop at the Paradise on September 17th was a part of their second tour in as many years, the first a typical career-spanning reunion jaunt and the second a proper support of their late 2014 LP, the fittingly titled A World Lit Only By Fire.

Broadrick and Green incorporated additional members, influences from the world of electronica and even some real live drummers throughout the 90s, but Godflesh in its current incarnation embodies the spirit of 1989’s caustic and uncompromising debut Streetcleaner. Broadrick and Green are the only human presences on Fire and on stage; it’s two men, two amplifier stacks, one laptop, and no mercy.

In a set that drew almost entirely from Streetcleaner and their latest, Godflesh unleashed sonic assault on a small but appreciative crowd. Broadrick’s unassuming button-up belied his gutturally intense vocal performances, and his buzzsaw guitar tones drove straight to the skull, shrieking and serrating amidst blasts of feedback and eerie samples. Green was the stoic foil, holding down the low-end in tandem with the band’s robotic percussion section. It was the sound of the end-times; catharsis through overwhelming apocalyptic fury. That the band called their debut Streetcleaner makes sense once you’ve seen them – the experience approximates being run down by one, but feeling strangely cleansed in the aftermath.

Opener Prurient, the long-running solo noise project of vocalist and producer Dominick Fernow, pursued a similarly-minded avenue of aggressive sonic release. Opening his set by flipping the switch on a Marshall stack on loan from Broadrick and drowning the audience in ear-splitting microphone feedback without warning, Fernow immediately set out to create an uneasy space. Prurient is the sound of a raw nerve, and it’s not meant to be gentle. For 30 largely unpredictable minutes, Fernow manipulated a table of gadgets into a storm of white noise, icy synths and rumbling bass, punctuated by his tortured, blown-out vocals. He hurled himself around the stage in an arrestingly physical performance, and it left the crowd’s collective head spinning when it all stopped just as unexpectedly as it had begun.

Much like last year’s choice of tour-mate in NYC noise-smith Pharmakon, Fernow’s presence on the bill was a testament to Broadrick and Green’s commitment to continue pushing the envelope. Godflesh’s brute-force caterwaul is still a singular sound nearly 20 years on, and they round out their shows with contemporary artists who also operate on the bleeding edge of heavy music. It was a good balance to strike on this night, and a riveting show through and through.

—Ben Stas

Prurient

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