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Godflesh – “Ringer”

Yesterday, Godflesh premiered “Ringer,” the opener from their forthcoming EP Decline & Fall. The June 24 release will be the first fresh Godflesh material in 13 years, meaning there are teenagers who finally get the chance to say the words “new Godflesh.” Yet, around the net, the initial reaction was relief. “Ringer” sounded like Godflesh. Indeed, apart from the beefier production, the trudge was a familiar one, something that could’ve snuggled into their past discography without a raised brow. The purity from the innovators was appreciated.

Of course, G.C. Green and Justin Broadrick weren’t obligated to rekindle their old muse. They’re not currently beholden to a puppet master record label, since Decline & Fall wears Broadrick’s own Avalanche Recordings stamp. Money isn’t an apparent concern and doesn’t fit their M.O. anyway. And, the last 25-odd years of non-Godflesh gigs have taught us to expect the unexpected. So, although that gave them license to do anything, the duo decided to be Godflesh. That’s, and this is a highly technical term, no small thing. Fans agree.

Before we examine that effect, let’s get acquainted “Ringer.” It begins as swirling, amorphous distortion. (Interestingly, it flows from the end of Hymns‘ “Jesu” while pouring acid on it, as well.) Then, thud: G.C. Green’s steadily plucked throb, a spare drum beat thump, and Broadrick’s chugs that glimmer with a metallic plink and syncopate via sustained bends. These three elements operate at different rhythms, lightly countering the others. Broadrick’s vocals add a fourth rhythm, locking in on the one, and letting the decaying echoes mingle among the overtones. Godflesh work hard to put you in the middle of a sonic soup of tones and vibrations that ricochet off whatever is in the room. Honestly, if you aren’t blasting this at a level that would make Glenn Branca wince, you’re limiting the intention.

Green and Broadrick are all about focusing energy, too, streamlining a listener’s attention like a swinging pendulum. Pretenders bite only the dirge, thinking the emotional impact resides in the grime. Not really. Instead, Godflesh’s power lies in the subconscious alignment of the listener to their pulse. Green and Broadrick rewire your brain through repetition. The end result is a harmonious shared experience. They’re craftsmen, so they also prod you along to keep you awake — a sort of feedback cilice.

Summation: good stuff, relieving. But, where are the big jolts? Justin Broadrick has, after all, built a career on those jolts, constructing a discography of collaborations evading easy categorization. There’s the subsonic, industrial dub hop of Techno Animal, the digital hardcore of Curse of the Golden Vampire, the shoegaze prayers of Jesu, etc. Heck, there’s even the experimental catch-all of Final. However, all of these projects have their own unique identifier: their name. By drawing boundaries around his flights of fancy, Broadrick avoids the backlash brought down upon creatively restless chameleons.

For instance, Boris and Circle are interesting bands creating interesting music in interesting times. Unless you’re a superfan, you only like a few flavors. Every new release causes the fair-weather listener to recalculate what Circle or Boris represent. If one doesn’t have time to find a through-line — or can’t disassociated band name from album — the makeovers continually lessen in impact until we can catch-up. There’s nothing wrong with that approach, it’s long-game stuff. Quality will rise. Until then, the present pattern turns into a definition: weird band does weird thing. That saps a lot of power, even if the songs eventually end up as great.

Godflesh? Godflesh is Godflesh. There’s comfort there. You’re already acclimated to their grand design. You can dig deeper immediately, getting at the subtler, more rewarding things. The things making Godflesh Godflesh.

— Ian Chainey

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