Godflesh – Decline & Fall

4 out of 5

Label: Hydra Head

Produced by: Justin K. Broadrick

Late to the metal / hardcore scene, and scared by bloody covers that bedecked Relapse and Earache releases, I never got around to listening to Godflesh. And rather put off by Justin Broadrick’s Jesu, I wasn’t in a rush to do so. But in collecting (at the time) Hydra Head releases, I was privy to group’s “return” release (after a decade or so hiatus) – Decline & Fall.

Consider me stymied. This is fantastic stuff that definitely lets me hear the connection to Jesu, but is so much more up my alley that, yet again, makes me question if I was “listening” to Broadrick’s other material properly, and so have lined it up for a reexamination.

But anyway, here we are, a 2014 release that sounds as primal and mean as anything else of the era, produced by two musicians and a hard-working drum machine. As has been noted by smarter folks than me, though, about that primal and meanness, a glance at Broadrick’s lyrics shows a more tonally fearful splash of words than one of standard hardcore threats. It’s not the deepest stuff, but definitely adds an interesting component to the chugging chug of the music, making it one more of a cage of sounds, beating against the bars, as opposed to shouting it in others’ faces.

The production here is grand: Broadrick milks the most delightfully flat thud out of his machine, and gets an absolute grinding sound out of that bass and guitar, his voice set right in the mix to enhance his growls, or let his Jesu-esque singing sit in a middle layer. Musically, after sampling some other Godflesh material, this sits somewhere between their heavier, early styles and latter, more lush stuff. It definitely errs toward hardcore over anything else, emphasizing the low-end, but opener Ringer could pass as meatier Jesu, and Playing With Fire – a standout for me – is drone-like in its layering, then breaks out for a punisher ending.

It falls slightly short at points, with Dogbite’s more aggressive “classic” Godflesh sound doing its shtick for one or two verses beyond necessity, and closer Decline & Fall seeks some kind of concluding smash it doesn’t get to. Both of these tracks are great, they just miss sealing the deal on this being a perfect EP of material.