In its best moments punk music transcends volk-rage by serving as a cracked mirror reflecting the forlorn realities that industrialization and intangible goal of perpetual progress wrought as this civilization awaited technological rapture to deliver its destiny among the stars. The reflection was always unclear because of its nature as folk music, marred by smudges and dust that lead it to misdiagnose the cause of its own woes. Depressor spiritually and musically channel this ethos while stepping into the well-worn boots of Godflesh resulting in a body of work resides between industrial, doom/death and punk music. The artists understand that heaviness is not merely a novelty or a token, but a vessel.
Abyssion is an industrial metal band hailing from Finland, a land that typically has been cradle to some of the most pensive underground metal. Abyssion plays music in that same spirit while remaining pretty accessible, making transparent music that can be absorbed on first listen by any experienced listener. There more of the indie and the Oi! than the traditional black metal in this music.
While some may feel the temptation to describe this in relation to Burzum based on the music’s most superficial traits and on passing and distracted observations, Abyssion’s Luonnon harmonia ja vihreä liekki has a lot more in common with Darkthrone’s early black metal albums. The difference with either is still clear to anyone intimately acquainted with Burzum or Darkthrone. Burzum’s developmental variations have no parallel in Abyssion’s music, which works with straight-up repetition and synth distraction. Even in contrast with Darkthrone’s dense riffing, Abyssion appears more sparse as it is a more blatant attempt at creating atmosphere.
Here in lies the trap: the artist is not trying to create music but the effect of the music. When music becomes about the effect, an imbalance is created through which the music is no longer solid, nor is the effect lasting, since it is self-referential and insincere. Still, Abyssion’s offering is consistent in style and faithful to a spirit. Recommended as a gateway band for fans of Muse into the spirit of underground metal.
In the early 1990s, everybody who was anybody had a Godflesh Streetcleaner t-shirt. That album broke out of the usual problems with industrial, which is that it was generally either rhythm music without beauty or dance music without aggression, and escaped the tendency of metal to be as intense as possibly by mixing in aspects of melody from crustcore and indie rock.
Since that time, Godflesh creators have spent their time searching for Selfless II. The crisis is that they are unsure of why that album is so revered. The band began its career with the rhythmic but amelodic Godflesh EP, which became repetitive and noisy but never rose to the level of grace of the album afterward, Streetcleaner. On that album, song structures expanded and use of melody and guitar harmony gave it a power beyond what the EP had. Then came Slavestate which introduced more of a techno influence, but underneath the skin was the same looping song structures with little more than rhythm that defined the EP.
After that, Godflesh tried Pure which attempted some melody, and when they were accused of being too “rock” on that album, Selfless which went back to tuneless droning in an industrial landscape for the most part. After that, the band experimented with alternative rock (Songs of Love and Hate, later resurrected in one of the bravest experiments in popular music, Songs of Love and Hate in Dub) and lost direction until Broadrick found Jesu as an outlet for his shoegaze/indie hopes. He kept enough of the metal and crustcore (remember his role as founding member of Napalm Death, which essentially combined crustcore and DRI-style thrash to make a new art form). But with the second album, Jesu lost its independent voice and became indie/shoegaze entirely, thus dispatching legions of not just metal fans but those who seek something unique.
With A World Lit Only by Fire, Godflesh attempts to return to the musical foreground but makes two critical mistakes. First, let us assume that Godflesh like a serial killer is a duality composed of “hard” and “soft” elements, which are stylistically grindcore and indie/shoegaze respectively. Let us also assume somewhat correctly that these create another binary of extreme rhythm and heavy distortion on one hand and melodic intervals and harmony through drone on the other. The history of Godflesh shows a band bouncing back and forth between these poles. When an album gets too soft, as Jesu did starting with Conqueror, the band bounces to the other area in which it knows it can succeed and sell product. On the other hand, when an album gets too abrasively grinding, it tries to go back toward the middle where it perceives Streetcleaner as existing. Its first mistake is being unable to find a style that balances its two extremes without varying them song by song, and as part of that, in failing to pick up on how much death metal influenced its choice of song structure and radically improved Streetcleaner. (When I last checked in 1994 or so, Godflesh was outright hostile to metal — understandable given the collapse of death and black metal in that year — although a few years earlier the influence had been more accepted as fact.)
The second mistake made by this band strikes me as more crucial. People create great albums in just about any genre but they need to introduce enough complexity to be able to clearly express an experience and corresponding feelings so that the audience can identify with the work and appreciate the viewpoint it illustrates. Napalm Death for example on its early albums succeeded by using individual songs as phrases in what essentially became a longer atmospheric work, but few people listen to it on a daily basis because it is mostly novelty. Not many people hail the Godflesh EP either because despite being a stylistic outlier, it makes for poor listening unless you like droning chromatic grind. The band lacked enough to express itself. With Streetcleaner, the band not only nailed style (mistake 1 rectified) but also nailed content (mistake 2 fix) by introducing enough complexity in song structure, melody, harmony and riff shape to be able to create atmosphere and manipulate it. Everything the band has done since, with the possible exception of Love and Hate in Dub, has focused on a one-dimensional approach where style is substance. While this “the medium is the message” makes sense in an academic setting, with music, it cuts out what Godflesh do well.
At this point, the meat of this review — the part that actually focuses on the new Godflesh album A World Lit Only by Fire — should be fairly obvious: Godflesh reverts to the mistake it made on its initial EP, Pure and Selfless and makes an album that is abrasive but repetitive and fails to introduce the elements of tension that gave Streetcleaner its power. If Godflesh finds a way to make an album like Streetcleaner in any style, even disco, it will take over the world. But that did not happen here. Songs are for the most part simple loops of verse and chorus riffs that while musically competent are essentially boring and rely on rhythm — very similar to Selfless — both in driving riff and in having an offbeat conclusion to each phrase. Over that, vocals rant out a phrase or two. The second half of the album improves with “Curse Us All” which has a powerful rhythmic hook, but the band never develops any of this potential into something with enough depth to want to revisit. This reveals that Godflesh has confused error 1 (style) with error 2 (content) because style cannot magically create content; it can only fit content and thus make it easier for the artist to visualize the content he or she is creating. Thus what we get is an album that sounds like classic Godflesh, but misses out on both voice and substance of classical Godflesh. Summary: Selfless II.
While that seems unusually cruel, even for a site known for its unrelenting musical cruelty, the greatest cruelty would lie in rubber-stamping this rather droning for fan consumption with the formula that most reviewers will endorse: “It’s hard like Streetcleaner, therefore it must be Streetcleaner II, not Selfless II.” This rubber-stamping displaces the funds that fans could spend on a better album and instead redirects them into what ultimately appears to be a dying franchise here, but also, lies to the artists about what they do well. They do not know, as is evident here. What made Streetcleaner great was a fully articulated style that did not slide into Pantera-style angry-bro rhythm music nor wandered into fixie-and-Pabst self-commiserating shoegaze. It took the best from all of its influences, including death metal, and made from it a voice unique to Godflesh. They can do it again; A World Lit Only by Fire is not that album however.
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.
Much can be said with very little, as is the case with the early era of the experimental titans known as Swans. Their discography ranges from the intensely violent to the melancholically beautiful and their sophomore effort Cop stands out as the perfection of the style present on their debut Filth which acted as the foundation of what was to come.
Influencing the likes of Godflesh, Cop launches forth with a cerebral wall of sound crushing everything in its wake like a colossal bulldozer laying waste to a city. The most consistently pummeling album in the Swans catalog — unlike later efforts (namely Soundtracks for the Blind) — attempts to engage its listeners in a gradual and destructive descent into the darkest recesses of the earth rather than projecting a more horror-inspired soundscape. The brooding ambiance conveys a sense of downward direction towards something unknown, like rappelling down a previously unexplored cave.
Though arguably not quite a metal release, it possesses heaviness both aesthetically and internally as well as the ability to create an all-encompassing atmosphere of destruction and dark curiosity. I recommend this album to any metal fan looking to explore the influential and often undiscovered Swans.
In the landscape of popular music, there are obvious “pop” genres on the surface next to accepted forms like jazz and classical, but underneath that are the surly and dangerous types of music that are underground because they don’t place nice with the contemporary mythos and ideology of our society.
That group includes metal, hardcore punk (not pop punk, which belongs under rock/pop) and industrial. These genres just refuse to play by the same rules as everyone else who wants mainstream acceptance, mainly because they flirt with or outright endorse ideas that the mainstream has decided are unpalatable.
We were fortunate to get a brief Q&A with Amélie Ravalec and Travis Collins, filmmakers of Industrial Soundtrack For The Urban Decay.
Industrial Soundtrack For The Urban Decay as a title seems to suggest both a documentary on industrial music, and some sense of the motivations behind industrial artists. What made you choose this approach?
Industrial Soundtrack For The Urban Decay is the first film to document the history of industrial music, featuring interviews from the genre’s most influential bands, artists, labels and fanzines.
I was motivated to make this documentary as I felt this genre and these artists deserve to be exposed to a broader audience. This film is about more than just industrial music, it also reflects on art, politics and social issues, postindustrialisation and urban decay.
Are you and your fellow filmmaker industrial fans? If so, what first got you into the genre?
Amélie: I came across industrial music while directing my first documentary Paris/Berlin: 20 years of underground techno. I’ve always enjoyed the harsher and darker side of music. Throbbing Gristle’s song “Convincing People” is one of the first industrial songs I remember hearing. I was immediately attracted to Genesis’s monotonous British voice and the hypnotic repetitiveness of the song. This led me on a path to discovering more industrial, post punk and dark ambient, as well as beautiful crossovers bands like Coil or In The Nursery. As I dug deeper into the industrial genre, I realized that I shared a lot common influences and preoccupations with those artists, even though they were from a different generation. From a really young age I read books by Burroughs, Ballard etc and became interested in art movements like the dadaist or the futurists, so I felt an instant connection to this music.
Travis: Working in a record store from a young age, I discovered techno and experimental music and was immediately appealed by the rawness of this sound. While living in Perth, Western Australia I had the opportunity to meet and collaborate with Cabaret Voltaire’s Stephen Malinder on a radio program and had him DJ at a club night I hosted. Mal and I became friends over the years and he was the first industrial band I fell in love with. I also got into bands like Throbbing Gristle, Meat Beat Manifesto, Silver Apples, Renegade Soundwave and others through my favourite DJ at the time, Andrew Weatherall. I met Amélie while traveling Europe and we decided that this film needed to be made.
I am no expert, but it seems that metal, punk and industrial come from a similar root, which is a rejection of the social impulse of mutual tolerance. Why do you think this is, and how do you think it relates to social decay?
All bands and collaborations bring different influences to the music they make and the environment and social context of the musicians also plays an important role. Most of the early industrial bands we interviewed grew up in turbulent times, where unemployment, highrise living and cultural oppression were all part of the decaying environment in which this music blossomed.
When the history of humanity is written, how do you think industrial music will be recorded? Do you consider it a historically important musical movement?
Industrial bands have been influential in many ways inspiring art forms, using tape loops and edits that pre dated sample music and these days you can hear noise and industrial elements in all forms of music from, electronic music, pop through to classical music.
Industrial musicians are educated, artistically minded and politically aware artists. They found inspiration in the avantgarde movements from the early 20th century like the Futurists, Dadaists or Surrealists, as well as contemporary writers William Burroughs and Brion Gysin. They were also influenced by early science fiction movies, Krautrock artists Kraftwerk, Can and Faust, The Velvet Underground and the DIY ethos of punk music. These artists rejected major labels, mass media and mainstream culture to invent a culture of their own.
When will Industrial Soundtrack For The Urban Decay be released and how can people watch it?
Some years have passed since Emit was first featured in these pages, but the UK dark ambient/noise/black metal-influenced project returns in the coming year with the newest edition of its most recent work.
MM, the creator of Emit and Hammemit, took the time to answer a few of our questions. Not only is he an underground musician, but he is also a zine publisher, having produced three issues of the Anti-Art Manifesto zine during the later years of underground black metal.
Emit claims influence from a number of sources, including its constitutent genres of black metal, dark ambient, electro-acoustic music and noise. However, there are extra-musical influences as well, such as a rumored connection to the Order of Nine Angles and other mystical groups.
As metal seeks new influences and directions in which it can go without losing its essential metal-ness, it makes sense to observe how others are navigating paths through the chaos. Thus we are very proud to present an interview with MM of Emit/Hammemit.
So… Emit’s back. What made you decide to resurrect this project?
Typically, Emit resurrected itself because it began to irritatingly manifest unbidden within recording sessions for Hammemit. Rather than contaminate the pure spring waters of my youngest son with the angry attentions of the estranged eldest, something had to be done with it. They are of the same blood, but are of different temperaments. I now create music as Dr. Jekyll might.
What have you been doing in the intervening years between Emit’s cessation and resurrection? Do you view these as similar activities in spirit, even if not in sound?
Well, there is Hammemit. To inaccurately quote myself from an unpublished interview: in varying shades of subtly dark sound I have raised again to their former use and gestalt such structures of worship and diligent study as may currently be found ruined or in state of repair within a certain radius of my guitar, in spectral form. These existing in an ancient realm quite recently known as England that I understand from books and hearsay actually once existed and is become resurrect via such musics as mine own. It is the spirit of a dead realm I still sadly bear living memory to.
Of course they are similar in spirit as I speak with one voice, searching for the ultimate expression, faltering with words yet more fluent in music to express the mysteries I am bound to darkly perceive yet struggle to grasp since earliest memory.
What motivates you to make music? Is there a philosophy to your life?
The motivation is a sudden urgent and painful desire to attempt a capturing of the essence of mysterious elements of existence, because mere words fail me as already explained. Music fails me too, but comes closer to describing that experienced than any other medium I might think of using for such means.
My most fervent hope is to capture perfectly, like ancient insect in amber, this unexplainable inexplicable. I perhaps came closest to doing so with a Hammemit piece called “The Trod of the Darklie Faye,” but yet still remains so distant from the core of the thing.
If there is a philosophy to my life it would surely be the cause of many a smile in the Greek underworld, in the unlikely event they bothered to peer up from their dice games to take notice.
Your CD is coming out on Crucial Blast Records in 2014. Can you tell us what the new Emit will be like? What’s the title?
It has already been available on cassette from a label called Glorious North, originally a demo. However, such is its apparent accomplishment that it deserves releasing again with full album status, expanded tastefully where necessary (I mean no bonus tracks).
The title is not quite borrowed from a compendium of M.R. James short stories, Spectre Music of an Antiquary. The cover (for the CD) is a photographically recorded arrangement of what “might” be called necrotic artifacts, of varying degrees of relevance to the music in question. Items with history and spectres of their own tied to them. In any case, not just some accidental collection of random rubbish as can often be seen elsewhere on album covers belonging to profane Public House crawling musicians with time and nothing else to kill.
It is musically comprised of bio-mechanically haunted vignettes, with a subtle 1980s film soundtrack aftertaste.
How do you think the metal community has changed between the last Emit and the next?
My connection to and interaction with any kind of music community or movement was always minimal. This not being by choice and I sometimes in the past regretted that fact. However I realise now in the light of maturity I was happier that way. I remain a writer of letters (and emails), mostly to people I have known a long while. Most of these people, if not all, bear the same opinion as myself, namely that there is little that such a community can offer people like us and increasingly so. The majority of those comprising these communities have no spirit or panache and wish for acceptance.
What’s next for Emit, and for you as a musician, after this album? Tour? More recordings?
A tour is unlikely to say the least. But some more live examples should be made where possible. More recordings are not out of the question, but only if there be a violent urge to do so. I never record anything for the sake of making a “new” recording. Especially as everything I have ever committed to tape (or .WAV file nowadays) has already been given birth in some form or other many hundred years previous. Even if it took the shape of a church or priest hole rather than unpopular song.
Industrial Soundtrack For The Urban Decay explores the history of industrial music, featuring interviews from the genre’s most influential bands, artists, labels and fanzines.
The documentary film by filmmakers Amélie Ravalec and Travis Collins is currently in post-production. Its topic is industrial music, meaning the noise-based variety more than the post-EBM variety, defined as “an experimental music genre inspired by a wide spectrum of ideologies and interests” which “combines improvisation and performance with avant-garde, provocative, political and taboo themes alongside harsh noise and environmental sound recordings.”
According to the filmmakers, industrial was a DIY genre that rejected mainstream society — much like the original hardcore punk and metal — and “found inspiration in the avant-garde movements from the early 20th century like the Futurists, Dadaists or Surrealists, as well as contemporary writers William Burroughs and Brion Gysin. They were also influenced by early science fiction movies, Krautrock artists Kraftwerk, Can and Faust, The Velvet Underground and the DIY ethos of punk music.”
What follows is a list of the interviewees for this film:
Eric Syre, a musician from French Canada, is best known perhaps for his work with TheSyre or Pohjast. However, he lives a double life. He is also an industrial/ambient musician recording under the name Unlife.
Unlife comes in two flavors. The first is a more Ministry-influenced version, while the second is almost pure Beherit Electric Doom Synthesis worship. For this reviewer, the first was actually the more intense because it is near completion as a unity of aesthetic and content. The newer material struggles with a bit of self-definition and because of this loss of familiarity, is more awkward but nonetheless compelling.
Ossuary (2005) uses guitars and vocals in a more traditional industrial-metal hybrid atmosphere and shows an influence not only of Ministry, but the generation before (Killing Joke) and lighter influence from the generation after (Godflesh). Songs emphasize heavy, mechanical beats over which Syre loosens up his pipes to give a melodic underpinning to what is otherwise purely “industrial” in the old sense, meaning it sounds like a cross between a factory and a war set to post-punk music.
Unlife (2007) on the other hand is all electronic. There is no attempt to fit songs into a traditional rock framework or imitation of its instrumentation, and cut free, the music experiments a great deal more with song form and texture. Clearly the largest influence here is Electric Doom Synthesis, which also gets alluded to if not outright quoted in a few of the songs, but this is in loving tribute and not some attempt to ride coattails. This longer work seems too simple at first, but suspends belief over time, and introduces a ritual trance mindset in the listener.
It’s our hope here at DeathMetal.org that Mr. Syre continues to develop these projects or at least the direction he was pursuing with both of these releases. His work on Ossuary more captures the power of his singing and sense of dynamics than TheSyre was able to, and Unlife shows us the potential of his composition as a viral stream of ideas alone.
Godflesh – 2013 TOUR DATES. with: Prurient & Nails
10/18 Philadelphia, PA @ Theatre Of Living Arts
10/19 New York City, NY – Irving Plaza
10/20 Boston, MA @ Royale
10/22 Chicago, IL @ Metro
10/24 Seattle, WA @ Neumos w/ Nails, Prurient
10/25 Portland, OR @ Hawthorne Theatre w/ Nails, Prurient
10/26 Oakland, CA @ Metro Opera House w/ Nails, Prurient
10/27 Los Angeles, CA @ Fonda Theatre w/ Nails, Prurient