Godflesh’s “Post Self” Is Post-Everything
It was 1988 and the biggest metal albums were …And Justice for All and Operation: Mindcrime, both full-blown concept albums with prog rock tendencies. Even the thrashers were trying to evolve but met resistance: Testament’s The New Order was too polished, Slayer’s South of Heaven was too slow. Much like how a decade prior the stagnant status quo of the classic rock dinosaurs birthed punk rock, there needed to be something to counter the hyper-pretension of the ruling class.
Grindcore was that sound, and the appropriately named Earache Records was its epicenter. Napalm Death and Carcass were the kick in the ass that metal needed, including turbo-charged blast beats that counteracted the growing apathy from the old guard. But Streetcleaner by Godflesh was more than an antidote. These two guys from Birmingham — two decades after the city’s same smokestacks belched Black Sabbath into being — started to make music that transcended metal as it was known at the time.
G. C. Green was previously in a band named after a Killing Joke song; Justin K. Broadrick spent time in Napalm Death as well as Head of David, a pioneering proto-industrial noise outfit. Their use of drum machines was polarizing. The fact that all of these things wouldn’t cause anyone in metal circles to blink today is a testament to how flawlessly Godflesh anticipated the future, even as far back as its debut.
And it was heavy. By God, was it ever heavy.
The band split up in 2002. During the time away, Green pretty much retired while Broadrick explored sounds that were either more organic (Jesu), more experimental (Greymachine), or more ambient (Final) than Godflesh. The two reunited in 2010 and four years after that released the comeback A World Lit Only by Fire.
And it was heavy. By God, was it ever heavy.
If this new beginning was a parallel excursion to the heralded debut, then it shouldn’t be a shock that the follow-up Post Self is a coextensive microcosm of the band’s latter material, which would branch off in different directions, not all of them metal. Actually most of them were even more at odds with metal, even as their own influence was helping to change the genre from within.
Green’s bass is reminiscent of the band’s past experiments with dub and other primarily electronic mediums. Imagine you’re on a street corner and you see a car at a red light… its windows are closed, but the music is cranked just a few notches louder than the stereo can manage. It’s a little muffled; it’s a lot distorted. Nothing even remotely trebly escapes into the ambient air. And that light stays red forever. And it’s Peter Hook playing that bass. (Well, maybe not that interesting, as Green himself will likely concede, but with the same rambunctiousness and energy and loud volume of the early Joy Division stuff).
If Green provides the throbbing heartbeat, Broadrick is the blood it pumps. His trademark monosyllabic grunts are like an additional percussive force just as prominent and pulverizing as the mechanized rhythms. However his guitar rarely falls into the familiar downtuned riffs that make up Godflesh’s most iconic material. Instead he strangles psychedelic spasms out of his instrument: minimalistic flourishes that never overwhelm the sparse, dense, compressed roughage.
The galloping title track embodies the classic Godflesh sound more than anything else on the album, which may be why it is the first song, quickly over with. Once that gets out of the way things quickly go into somewhat uncharted territory. “Parasite” is the discomfort of Big Black set to a Helmet-like march; “Mortality Sorrow” seems like the darker sister-track to “My Name is Norman Bates” by 1980s synthpop purveyors Landscape (check out the creepy low-budget, low-fi early MTV-era video on YouTube); “The Cyclic End” is magnificent shoegaze without a hint of the blackened influence that has infiltrated the genre as of late. And it doesn’t need it, really.
Despite the outward rejection of metallic tropes, Post Self is a solid entry into the Godflesh cannon. The melodrama of “Pre Self” that mimics classic Goth, the grinding intensity of “Mirror of Finite Light,” the way “In Your Shadow” is Laibach if they were a post-punk band, and the way ethereal album closer “The Infinite End” — these all make you feel like you’re burning in water, drowning in flame. It shows that the Godflesh doesn’t need metal to be heavy.
But by God, is it ever heavy.
— Brian O’Neill
Post Self releases on November 17th via Avalanche Recordings.