Everyone's pretty much in agreement that Godflesh's Streetcleaner is one of the true high-water marks of extreme music; one only has to look at
the far reaching influence that album's grinding slow-motion industrial dirge metal has had on legions of bands that followed, everyone from Fear Factory to
Korn to Neurosis and The Bug have referenced the fearsome apocalyptic feel and mechanical grooves of that watershed album. But it's the subsequent album
Pure and the EPs and remix 12"s that came out in the wake of Streetcleaner that revealed how multi-faceted and forward-thinking Godflesh's
music really was, exploring the fusion of electronic music and extreme metal even further, experimenting with techno, rock-based songwriting, ambient music
and shades of the distortion overloaded ethereal qualities of the early 90's shoegazer sound, the latter of which foreshadows Justin Broadrick's later
post-Godflesh work with Jesu after the turn of the century. Much of the music that came out around the sophomore album Pure has been out of print
for years, but Earache has recently assembled a nice big chunk of this music together in another one of their cool multi-disc packages, this one collecting
the Pure album, the Cold World EP, the tracks from the Slateman / Wound '91 7" that came out on Sub Pop, and the entire
Slavestate disc. Needless to say, if you don't have this stuff, it's an essential collection if you're a fan of Godflesh.
Though the band was often lumped in with the burgeoning grindcore/death metal scene coming out of the uk in the late 80's, Godflesh were obviously an
entirely different sort of beast, much more indebted to early UK industrial and the massive bone-crushing dirge of NYC's Swans than the thrash-influenced
sounds of grindcore, and this became even more clear with the release of 1992's Pure. With an expanded lineup that now featured Robert Hampson from
UK hypno-rockers Loop on guitar, Pure would feature some of the band's most accessible songs, as well as some of their most abstract and
experimental, the ten tracks moving between crushing Swans-influenced mecha-dirge, old school hip-hop breakbeats, corrosive industrial textures, and ethereal
rock qualities that makes it pretty clear that Broadrick and company was paying attention to the way that bands like My Bloody Valentine and other
underground UK rock bands were experimenting with distortion, volume and melody. You have one of the few "hits" that Godflesh ever had, the mighty industrial
rock of "Mothra", as well as the crushing, spacey industrial hip-hop/metal hybrid of "Spite", but then there's the final track "Pure II", a sprawling
twenty-one minute feedback/ambient noise epic that expands on the early industrial drone work that Broadrick was doing in his pre-Godflesh band Final. The
simple but punishing sludgy guitars and massive bass of the early Godflesh releases hadn't gone anywhere, but now they were welded to a mix of absolutely
DESTRUCTIVE industrial breakbeats and pounding grooves. Still intensely heavy and bleak and dystopian in feel, no doubt about it, but with this album
Godflesh was beginning to evolve into a much more accessible and downright catchy force. One of my favorite 'Flesh songs ever, "Spite" could pass for a
super-heavy rock song if it weren't for the inhuman breakbeats and incredibly distorted/downtuned guitars, and there's even a wailing hard rock solo that
erupts towards the end of the song. "Mothra" was one of Godflesh's more popular songs, one of the clostest things to a single the band ever had (with a video
that got a surprising amount of airplay on MTV back when Pure came out). Another favorite of mine is "Love, Hate (Slugbaiting)", which begins with
several minutes of sampled industrial noise (which was actually taken from a live recording of Broadrick's old band Fall Of Because) before morphing into a
massive dreamy metallic dubscape filled with pneumatic rhythms, swells of orchestral feedback, and icy ethereal vocals.
The 1991 EP Cold World was a stop-gap release leading up to the release of Pure, and in some ways it's a fascinating look at the ways
that Broadrick's musical language was evolving, especially when you listen to the almost beautiful, dubbed-out dirge of the title track and hear something
eerily similar to what Jesu would be doing more than ten years later on the Heart Ache album. The song opens with a gloomy synth string intro, then
lurches into crushing ethereal sludge, a huge crunchy industrial breakbeat lumbering in slo-mo as dreamy, echoing vocals are layered over the
grinding Sabbathy riff and sheets of shimmering distortion. Like much of the Pure album, the song features Robert Hampson from Loop/Main on guitar,
and his swirling, crushing guitar sound added a whole new element to Godflesh's music. But the next song "Nihil" takes quite a different approach. A pounding
industrial/techno-metal dirge with wailing feedback and howling, dissonant guitars, droning steel-plated bass lines and anchored to some seriously monstrous
EBM-style rhythms, this is Godflesh in their most dystopian dancefloor mode. The rest of the EP is just a duo of remixes for "Nihil", titled "Nihil (Total
Belief Mix)" and "Nihil (No Belief mix)"...the former features a more prominent breakbeat and more punishing drum sequencing, sparser guitars, warped vocals,
but it's still super metallic and crushing, but the latter goes even bleaker with the guitars almost totally excised, replacing them with huge grinding synth
waveforms and noisy industrial samples.
The reissued Slavestate that is included in the set not only includes all of the original tracks from the Slavestate 12" and the Slavestate (Remixes) 12", but also includes both of the long out-of-print tracks from the Slateman / Wound '91 7" that was released as part of the Sub Pop Singles Club back in 1991. Slavestate compiled a pair of original singles that saw Godflesh going even further into electronic music territory, infusing heavy EBM and Wax Trax style industrial music into their metallic attack. There's the brutal techno-influenced mecha-crush of the title track and its two remixes, the pulverizing martial dirge and soaring drone guitars of "Perfect Skin", itself accompanied by a massive twelve-minute "dub" remix that's even harsher and meaner than the original. The song "Someone Somewhere Scorned" stands out for its interesting use of electronic bass, and "Meltdown" is a return to the more straightforward slow-motion devastation of earlier Godflesh, although towards the end the song reveals some really gorgeous melodic guitarwork. The last two tracks are from the Sub Pop 7", and the inclusion of the song "Slateman" was reason enough for me to pick this set up - it's one of their catchiest songs, insanely heavy but with a knockout chorus, another one of my favorite 'Flesh songs; the revamp of "Wound" is a brutal EBM-style remix.
No Godflesh collection should be without these releases, and the three-disc set is an affordable way to fill a big chunk of the early 90's output from these influential industrial/metal pioneers. The discs are packaged in a set of two jewel cases with the original booklets for each release, and are housed together in an oversized slipcase.