10 Pool Valley
The amount of sub-genre defining heavy metal released in the years from 1986-92 is ludicrous. Reign In Blood (’86), Scum (’87) Altars of Madness(’89) and A Blaze In A Northern Sky (’92) are records that have come to define thrash metal, grindcore, death metal and black metal respectively and have rarely, if ever, been surpassed since. Arguably, Godflesh’s Streetcleaner (’89) is the industrial metal equivalent.
Justin Broadrick, Godflesh’s vocalist, guitarist and joint programmer was already heavily involved in the UK extreme metal scene – indeed he featured on side one of the above mentioned Scum – before he formed Godflesh in 1988. He was joined by bassist G.C. Green who Broadrick played with before in Fall of Because in the mid ’80s. It was immediately clear that Godflesh would be different, opting to back their discordant, doomy, distorted guitar rage with a drum machine; a move that gave their sound a unique coldness in metal at the time.
Streetcleaner and its equally heralded successor Pure merged wading-in-treacle Sabbath riffs, early Swans’ slow, sadistic, punchy drums and textures lifted from Metal Machine Music to create a style of music that would later be cleaned up and popularised by acts such as Ministry, Nine Inch Nails, Rammstein and Marilyn Manson. Befitting Broadrick the restless musician, later albums experimented with live drums as well as techno and dub before Godflesh called it a day in 2001. Broadrick’s post Godlflesh career has been testament to his creative streak, Jesu continued where Godflesh left off, whilst he indulged his love of electronic music in various outfits such as Techno Animal (with Kevin Martin, later to become The Bug and King Midas Sound).
The decision to reform was initially a tentative one, with Broadrick and Green committing only to a Hellfest show in the summer of 2010. However, once that was done, more dates were forthcoming including co-headlining the 2010 edition of Supersonic with Swans. They refused to rule out new material and sure enough this year has seen the emergence of an EP Decline and Fall, and a full length A World Lit By Fire. The new material is cold and clinical like their early work but with the advantage that 25 years of advances of recording technology and a bigger budget gives. It has exceeded the expectations of even the most optimistic fan and the stage is set for a career defining tour that is stopping at The Haunt.
This writer’s seen some deafening gigs – Electric Wizard, Slayer, My Bloody Valentine, Swans and Motorhead all stick in the mind – but when a suicidal or sarcastic punter tells Godflesh to “turn it up” halfway through their first Brighton show in over a decade, we’d willingly trade our great great sight line for something further from the speaker. This is oppressively, punishingly loud; the bass seems like an immovable bottom-end force, felt more than heard, but barely audible beneath the diamond-cutter sharp, feedback free, clear guitars of Justin Broaderick and a programmed kick drum that feels like it’s realigning your internal organs. This is the musical equivalent of the boiling frog analogy – early on G.C Green’s bass is counterproductively dominating proceedings but is overtaken by Broaderick gradually creeping his guitar into the red and way, way beyond.
Godflesh’s comeback A World Lit By Fire – their first album in 13 years – is a crowd-pleaser. It fits perfectly alongside their classic debut Streetcleaner and career highlight second album Pure in the place where early Swans, Black Sabbath and Metal Machine Music meet, so the decision to open with six tracks from it is only a very minor disappointment. The Killing Joke inspired ‘Life Giver Life Taker’ was the pick of the new ones, the double kick drum threatening to set off a weather event. The maelstrom produced when they delivered back catalogue classics was awe-inspiring, most people were mesmerised, paralysed by sound while ‘Christbait Raising’ raged around them. During final song ‘In Rats’, as the intensity becomes almost too much to bear, I’m hearing tribal drums that aren’t there and guitar harmonics that are the creation of either my brain or my ears.
Broaderick left with some choice words about The Haunt’s strictly imposed 10pm curfew, which disappointingly leaves both band and audience feeling a little short changed, though it feels churlish to blame this on the venue. The curfew was a given, and the economic reality of small venues means that the club night program is just as if not more important to the survival of the venue as concerts. It was almost perfect as it was, another 15 minutes may have been too much.
Opening the show were Black Shoals, whose drum machine and 2 guitars with a theatrical female front was starting to wear thin until their last track. It had a funereal drum pattern, one guitar tremolo picking, the other playing a huge doom riff, all complimented by some chanted clean vocals, and was by some distance the best thing they played. Prior to that they came across as very much in thrall to the industrial black metal of 666 International era Dodheimgard.
It was no surprise to learn that Birmingham 2-piece Khost were the full tour support for Godflesh. They traverse the same sort of cold, industrial metal as the headliners. It was a weird set, their guitars were dense, impenetrable walls of sound that became desensitising, to the extent that it was difficult to work out if the crowd were transfixed or if it was just a group of thousand yard stares. Clearly there was something diverting about them as 30 minutes fly by in what feels like under half that.