Thursday, 17 December 2015

Godflesh - Streetcleaner (1989)

Funny how certain things send you straight off in search of a particular bit of music. This one came back to me through the reproduction of a Daily Mail cartoon likening Muslim refugees to a plague of rats infesting host countries, just as Nazi cartoonists once made the same analogy with Jews; and the first track here is Like Rats which, aside from the parallel title, pretty much summarises the shittiness of a world run almost exclusively for the benefit of horrible Daily Mail reading cunts.

I was introduced to Godflesh with Us & Them, but for some reason have only recently begun to venture further into their back catalogue. I'm not sure why being as I love the shit out of Us & Them; although with hindsight, it's weird to consider that it's almost their album of uptempo pop songs, at least compared to this beast.

Actually, I suppose I was introduced to Godflesh - or at least to Justin Broadrick - much earlier when he recorded tapes of electronic noise as Final, and a few of his tracks appeared on the same noisy cassette compilations as some of my own stuff. I don't recall much about the music, beyond that one track was called Belief, but the fact that I remember it at all suggests it had something going for it. Also, the transition from power electronics to this sort of noise metal makes a lot of sense, and whilst Godflesh weren't the only band to go down that particular road, they remain the most listenable of their kind for my money - possibly excepting Ramleh who were kind of going for a different thing anyway.

Where Us & Them seems to share some kinship with Killing Joke or even Joy Division, Streetcleaner is a different, more primal monster. This one isn't so much songs as power electronics with riffs and a drum machine. Ordinarily, much as I love Brer Drum Machine, I'd raise an eyebrow at his use under circumstances where an actual drummer would have sounded so much better - like on Big Black's otherwise astonishing Atomiser, for one example. Streetcleaner initially sounds like it could do with a human bashing the skins, not least because the drum machine here is clearly programmed to have more or less the same effect as John Bonham, but after a few listens the reasoning for the choice becomes clear. There's something about the impersonal quality of a drum machine and the very fact of it being a machine which works so well. Music reviews employing the term jackhammer in reference to rhythm seem a bit of a cliché, but this one really does sound like that. It rocks like fuck whilst nevertheless resembling some inhuman mechanical process occurring inside the meat factory, the sort of thing with a start button and that big red plastic mushroom you bash to shut the whole system down when some poor fucker falls in and loses his legs. Add to this massive riffs delivered like concrete blocks onto a loading bay from the back of a truck, over and over and over, and every single one of them landing on your fucking foot.

It's huge and brutal, possibly an heir to the Swans, except Cop seems surprisingly subtle by comparison despite equivalent soul-crushing weight. Extremity has become a bit of a minefield in musical terms as of at least the last decade, mainly thanks to too many industrial types coming to resemble the enemy in their relentless invocation of the violence of civilisation. In fact I'm surprised there hasn't yet been a pro-UKIP power electronics act coming through, but give it time. Godflesh at least seem to have remained true to the spirit of dissent informing earlier generations of noisy buggers, the Grey Wolves for example - whom I mention partially because they're about as dark as it gets and I know they're good lads, and also because I know one of them occasionally reads this stuff, and because for the sake of argument I suppose Godflesh are the Grey Wolves with tunes, just about, at least in terms of what they do to your ears, brain, and arse.

It's hardly pretty, but then neither is the world which has inspired this particular hour long howl of rage, and sometimes it helps to be reminded of the fact with no punches pulled.

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