Fact: STREETCLEANER is one of the heaviest albums of the last 30 years. I’ll put “Christbait Rising” up against anything you’ve got, any day of the week; that album crushes like nothing that’s come before or since its release. If you’re clueless to what I’m talking about, stop what you’re doing and go to iTunes or Spotify or whatever and give it a listen – it’ll change your life.
Okay, I may have spent what could be described as an “unhealthy” amount of time listening to Godflesh records back in the day under the influence of questionable chemicals, and I “might” have some bias in my opinions. But you can’t argue the impact that Justin Broadrick and G.C. Greene collectively had on underground, extreme music. Godflesh may not have been the first band to incorporate electronic/industrial elements into their music, but they were certainly the heaviest and the scariest (piss off, Skinny Puppy). A victim of their own success, Godflesh eventually collapsed under its own weight in 2002 despite a series of well received releases and growing mainstream acceptance. Broadrick would go on to enjoy moderate success with a bevy of likeminded outfits (please check out Jesu if you haven’t already) and Greene went so far underground that nobody could find him, but the pair couldn’t escape the shadow cast by the beast they’d created. Flash forward to the inevitable reunion in 2010 via a performance at Hellfest and the wheels were in motion for a full, albeit slow moving, resurrection. Hot on the heels of the DECLINE AND FALL EP released earlier this year, we are finally greeted with the first full length Godflesh release in 13 years, A WORLD LIT ONLY BY FIRE. So was it worth the wait? Kinda sorta.
Sonically speaking, A WORLD LIT ONLY BY FIRE is the most primal and ugliest sounding Godflesh record since its ’88 self-titled debut. Focusing on down tuned guitars and sledgehammer rhythms, the album sounds almost caveman like in comparison to SELFLESS or HYMNS, which in execution is both a blessing and a curse. Upon each listening of A WORLD LIT ONLY BY FIRE, the phrase “genius obscured by monotony” was front of mind. Ironically the most organic and “human” sounding Godflesh album to date (a sentiment pretty much acknowledged by Broadrick in the press), A WORLD LIT ONLY BY FIRE is missing a lot of the nuance that gave the classic Godflesh catalog so much character and identity. It’s heavy, for sure, but it’s also pretty mundane in spots. The opening “New Dark Ages” is a mid-tempo plodder that never really gets out of first gear and is followed by “Deadend”, which sounds like a 2nd-rate NuMetal outfit’s first experiment with a drum machine. But then we get the back to back to back gems of “Shut Me Down”, “Life Giver Life Taker” and the ethereally oppressive “Obeyed”. “Carrion” is as boringly repetitive as “Towers of Emptiness” is grandiose. Such is the dichotomy of A WORLD LIT ONLY BY FIRE – some truly great tunes marred by otherwise mediocre and blasé outputs.
Don’t get me wrong – An unbalanced Godflesh record is still going to hold its own against most of the rehashed nonsense in your play queue right now, so please don’t mistake my criticism as dismissal. A WORLD LIT ONLY BY FIRE may not be Godflesh’s finest hour, but it’s still a worthy addition to the band’s massive library of sound and still merits an objective listen. For those of you pining for a more experimental version of the Godflesh you know and love, the aforementioned DECLINE AND FALL EP (which slipped under many a radar, including my own) will quell much of that yearning. A WORLD LIT ONLY BY FIRE won’t do much to convert unfamiliar audiences, but it will resonate enough with existing fans to keep them entertained like the rats they are.
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