Us and Them
Released: 1999, Earache Records
Reviewer: Nathan Robinson
In my opinion, industrial music sucks. (ed. note: right on Nathan, we all know metal rules hehe) Most bands in this genre are just plain boring or are Godflesh rip-offs. But Godflesh themselves hold a special place in my taste of music. They ARE the soundtrack to the end of the world. Proof lies in Streetcleaner. But the pages in the book of apocalyptic music were turned and Godflesh began a new chapter in their career with the release of Songs of Love and Hate. Incorporating a "live" drummer and new songwriting approach, this album was different for Godflesh and perhaps a little more accessible. But they didn't abandon the melancholic guitars and still managed to write some disturbing material. Us and Them may even be more accessible. Being more "accessible" can be good or bad, depending on the reasons. But in Godflesh's case, it's bad.
First of all, the "live" drummer was scrapped. This is no big deal, as all of their albums previous to Songs of Love and Hate had drum machines. But the programming on the new album is way too "hip-hop". Justin has always been great at creating interesting drum machine rhythms, but this time they sound like dance music. And you'd think that no matter how "happy" the drums are, Justin's guitars would drown them in pure aural holocaust right? Wrong. Where are the fucking guitars on this album? Justin's guitar work was so unique, so disturbing, and really quite unbelievable. He was great at mixing unorthodox riffs with high-pitched screeching and other guitar noise. But all of that is missing on Us and Them. There are some good passages here and there, but the guitar is way too low in the mix for them to stand out.
Some songs have a good, solid drum sound, while others have hip-hop rhythms with rather bad sounding drums. And although most of the songs have some damn ominous guitar work, it's just too low in the mix, as mentioned before. But great discordant bass guitar does dominate on some tracks. And a few songs have dark atmosphere too. Justin's vocals vary throughout the album, but most of the time vocal effects are used. I was always a fan of the low harmonized voice he used on tracks like "Predominance" off of Pure. But I am becoming increasingly sick of the scratchy vocal effects that so many bands have used to the point of absurdity. If used appropriately, these effects can be positive. But in almost all cases on this album, Justin's natural voice would have sounded better.
The best tracks are the heavier ones and those with the more straightforward-sounding drums. The title track is one such heavy bastard, although the guitars are too damn feeble sounding. Same goes for "Witchhunt", although this one has those damn scratchy vocals. "Bittersweet" is more in line with older Godflesh. The snare sounds much more normal, and the vocals are quite ominous. Another good one is "Nail"…nice dirty riffs and wacky high-end guitar sounds. Justin's vocal approach on "Whose Truth is Your Truth" is new, using nice low and natural vocals, sounding almost gothic.
On the bad side, "I, Me, Mine" sounds pretty ominous, except for the fast tempo drum machine. The bass guitar sounds nice and prominent, and Justin's guitar work is great, but the hip-hop drum pattern just doesn't go well with the rest. "Defiled" is another one ruined by hip-hop drum patterns. This song sounds like a bad remix of an old Godflesh song. However this is one of those tracks where Justin employs the low vocal harmonizer to produce good results. "Control Freak" has lots of creepy guitar work and atmosphere reminiscent of Streetcleaner. But the sound of the drums is pretty horrible. Too bad, it could have been a great song.
On a final note, I must thank the band for including lyrics this time! Godflesh have never thrown loads of lyrics into their songs, nor have they tried to delve deep into Webster's dictionary to find the most abstract way of disguising their thoughts and feelings. But it is nice to know just what the hell Justin is saying in his songs!
Overall, practically every song on this album is ruined by one element or another…whether it be a horrible drum machine rhythm or sound, lack of guitar, or bad vocals. But with every bad element there is a good one or two, which makes most of the songs worth listening to. This album will take some time to grow on people like me, a metaller who happens to like Godflesh too. But big Godflesh freaks may love this album, as the band has continued to experiment. But if you don't already own any Godflesh albums, don't waste your time on this one!