It’s 2023 and the word ‘industrial’ is just about the most used word in the Western vernacular, though usually in front of the word ‘action’ as strikes take hold as the rights of the worker are continually infringed. In the case of Godflesh, industrial comes before metal, and they emerged from Thatcher’s Britain where one of her key goals was to squash the strikes of the 1970s. She did, destroying much of Britain’s remaining industry as she did so. From the factory heartland of Birmingham, Godflesh’s dirgy, mechanical, and heavy industrial metal has always summed up the miserable atmosphere which spawned them. In the present world, where train strikes affect almost every other weekend and the phrase ‘cost of living crisis’ has taken root in the minds of the people, it is the perfect setting for Godflesh to unleash their first album in six years, Purge.
The eagle-eyed amongst the readers may have made the same connection I did as soon as the grey album cover was shown with the one-word title Purge: remove one letter and you transport yourself to Godflesh’s gritty golden years with 1992’s Pure. Upon hearing the first few seconds of “NERO”, you could be forgiven for thinking this is a lost song from that album. In fact, the entire first half feels as if the Selfless-and-beyond parts of the Godflesh discography never happened, much like the Godzilla Millenium films where an entire narrative unfolds only for the next film to completely erase it and start over anyway. It’s grimy, dingy, and dwells in the filthy sounds that Godflesh defined. The production of Purge has more of an edge, so the years have certainly crisped up Godflesh’s tones as the decades of Justin Broadrick’s exploration have certainly made him an expert in production. This cleaner production by no means diminishes the heaviness that Godflesh have managed to conjure up though.
“LAND LORD” follows single “NERO” with its brutality, Broadrick’s distorted growl feeling as climactic as it ever did, his guitar and bass combo with BC Green just as deep as ever but with the extra punch of that modern production. “ARMY OF NON” and “LAZARUS LEPER” complete side A and there is no let-up to this rediscovery of the anger of those early albums. For six years it seems that they’ve pent up all of these feelings developing of the crumbling world around them, simply waiting for the moment to drop it on the unsuspecting and now run-down population. I, for one, was ready for a return to their anger-filled selves. Yet, up to this point the band really don’t seem to have developed their world view greatly, nor have they shown a new lens on anything. It’s all been done before and while this, predictably, is done impeccably well, we have heard this before. On this following Pure, the band states that ‘PURGE musically, amongst the many layers of dirt, revisits and updates the concepts explored on the Pure album…’90s hip-hop grooves mangled and put through that Godflesh filter to create something unique and futuristic in style’. So far, we’ve definitely experienced the many layers of dirt and the Godflesh filter, but there is certainly some more updating of the concepts required.
Luckily, side B has been executed with surgical precision to expand and explore the Godflesh sound. The industrial techno beat of “PERMISSION” is reminiscent of Broadrick’s JK Flesh project, with Green’s rumbling serving only to deepen the rhythm of the now-electronic beat with minimal distorted riffs and more considered playing. The harsh vocals have even given way for more of the style found on the albums, which followed during the verses. Of course, these return halfway through the song as 2023 Godflesh have more pent up-anger still to give, yet it’s becoming balanced with more experimental sounds. “THE FATHER”’s opening ambient guitar work is as reminiscent of Broadrick’s dronegaze titan Jesu (and the Godflesh album Hymns that spawned the project), as his voice rings out with ‘Failure – Imperfections’. The more measured pace, along with more floating vocals, are removed from any of the so-called ‘New Flesh’ albums, it’s actually a better Jesu song than anything that turned up on 2020’s ultimately disappointing Terminus.
“MYTHOLOGY OF SELF” pulls the pace back up, with the immediate chugs and bass rumble more fitting of a heavy Godflesh number. The vocals have been downtuned and given echo to be reminiscent of a Doom creature, creating an extra-menacing edge to the track among the tension of the drum machine and bass. The gaps leave space for fractious acoustic percussion and guitar, with an off-kilter feel that just makes the listener feel slightly uneasy. Eight-minute closer, “YOU ARE THE JUDGE, THE JURY, AND THE EXECUTIONER” has more of the floating style of vocals, with atmospheric guitar rings and Green’s pulsing bass remaining almost unwavering for the entire track. The feel is built again on tension and atmosphere over anger, it isn’t a blunt instrument to the back of the head but a thinly veiled threat on a public phone. Yet, it does kind of end up sitting somewhere between a shorter atmospheric track and the monumental drone efforts from the CD versions of Pure or Selfless, which is kind of shame as I feel like this has all the makings of “Pure III”.
Purge is an interesting proposition in the end: side A is very much a continuation of 1992’s Pure while side B brings in many elements of the following Godflesh eras, notably 2001’s Hymns and 1998’s Us and Them. Broadrick’s expertise and experimentation are clear to see and he still wants to embed as much as he can in his flagship Godflesh project, while Green remains rock solid as the foundation. In the end, I do wonder what Godflesh’s current viewpoint is. While this is still a somewhat futuristic album, it looks to their own past and they’re a band who sound timeless already. But, when you’ve got the discography of Godflesh, why do you need a viewpoint? They’ve got more great albums than many bands will ever release at all and, well into their fourth decade, remain able to recreate their peak while experimenting with sounds of their other lives.