Godflesh Streetcleaner: triumph of industrial grindcore
Sometimes great albums happen. Multiple forces converge — influences, musicians, leaders, ideas, opportunities — and everyone involved becomes more than they are. They rise above their mortal lives and create something profound enough to live in, a musical world we want to inhabit and take up its struggles and make it turn into the full potential we see nascent within its objects.
Streetcleaner falls into this category. After a stylistically-inspiring but somewhat deconstructive first EP that never really created a direction of its own except aesthetically, the three individuals who comprise Godflesh returned with a new energy. They combined influences from their fledgling industrial grindcore, indie rock and death metal, and came up with an album resonant with layers of potential. Instead of aiming to destroy melody, they built it from the smallest elements so that it could only be seen when those overlapped and only then often by implication, creating a haunting album like an ancient mansion full of unexplored pathways and secret rooms.
Slowing down their attack, Godflesh carved time into a space through the selective introduction of sounds which then received an ecosystem of other sonic fragments with which to interact, creating an atmosphere that also had form and narrative. From indie rock they borrowed melancholic but affectionate melodies, from death metal complex song structures, and from industrial the sound that genre had always desired to express, namely a machine crushing human hope like a Charles Dickens novel. Together these influences formed a sound like Killing Joke accelerated into apocalyptic nihilism with the raw sonic experimentation of death metal.
Streetcleaner came together like an impossible dream. It borrowed from many musical traditions but the band kept both its own voice and a style specific to the album. What really distinguishes this album however is the content. Streetcleaner captures a range of human emotions in response to the disaster of human emotions that creates our modern world: individualistic selfishness leading to herd behavior empowering vast evils. In putting this into sound, Godflesh opened a dialogue with the darkest parts of our souls and the reason those souls are dark, which is that we know the possibility of light.
The band never concentrated its energy in such a way again. The following album, Pure, went back to a higher concept version of their first EP, but never managed the emotional intensity that the interwoven melodic streams of Streetcleaner brought out among the crushing noise and abrasive battle robot rhythms. They swung back the other way toward indie rock for a few more albums, but those went too far into face-value emotion and lost both intensity and honesty. Eventually the band faded out into a series of projects pursuing influences as most senior underground efforts do. However Streetcleaner remains as the apex of industrial music and the album every dark topics band wishes they could make, as well as a profound influence on the rising black metal movement and the second wave of death metal.