Archive for June, 2013

Godflesh – Self-Titled EP (1988)

In anticipation of seeing Godflesh, one of the most intensely moving bands I’ve ever experienced, this coming October in NYC, I will be reviewing their entire discography from start to finish (or rather what is turning out to be merely a significant hiatus). For the uninitiated, a quick primer on this singular musical entity…Godflesh

Godflesh is the brain-child of Justin Karl Broadrick (ne JK Broadrick – guitar, vocals, programming) and Ben George Christian Green (ne GC Green – bass). In 1982 Green formed, along with Paul Neville, Fall of Because, a primitive industrial-metal band which actually wrote some of the basic forms of songs which would become early Godflesh numbers. The two asked Broadrick (who was playing a minor role in Napalm Death) to play drums and contribute vocals to the project. Fall of Because ended in 1986/7. Broadrick was no longer playing in Napalm Death at that time, but was in a noise rock band called Head of David. After departing from that project, he reached out to Green to reform FoB in 1988. That reformation would lead to the creation of Godflesh, in which Broadrick took over guitars, incorporated the use of a drum machine, and became the main creative driving force. Paul Neville would remain a close contributor to Godflesh in the early years. The band’s fusion of doom/stoner metal (Black Sabbath, St. Vitus, Candlemass), industrial/power electronics (Throbbing Gristle, Whitehouse, Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music), and the ambient cinematic works of people like Brian Eno or John Cage, has been often lauded as a significant influence on extreme/heavy music in it’s wake.

The band’s first release is actually one of their most intricate and impressive from virtually every standpoint. In my opinion, this is the best place for anyone to start when getting into Godflesh. Later albums would veer into isolated territories of style, but this one remains an entire united nation’s worth of sound – everything coalesces together into one monolithic entity that defines the band. It also is their closest to sounding like a normal heavy metal band. The drum machine, while certainly sounding artificial, is treated, for the most part, like a digital drummer and the electronic noise is oftentimes almost indistinguishable from Justin’s guitar work (although there are plenty of chunky riffs to satiate those who crave that organic, Sabbath-y sludge). The opening hyper-speed drum hits into sloth-paced riffing is immediately unforgettable and the ensuing track, Avalanche Master Song, ranks as one of the band’s best and most beloved by fans. Here, the band sounds like the aforementioned Black Sabbath practicing in the factory Tony Iommi lost part of a finger in. Other standout tracks are Weak Flesh, one of the band’s more aggressive/punker sounding numbers, and Ice Nerveshatter whose title is equally brilliant and obtuse and offers a crescendo rarely equaled in the band’s catalog.

At this point, lyrically, Justin is focusing almost entirely on what would become a continuing theme, albeit only one aspect of many, throughout the band’s releases; revelation through pain. This is the most recognizable on Ice Nerveshatter which begins with “Ascend faceless/Naked, I am yours” and ends with “I needed this, you watch me/I bleed to death, watch me” – the recognition of the importance and inevitability of suffering, but also of the growth and realizations which come from the same things which create suffering in life. Zen in the dirt. He focuses on singular phrases, not detailed narratives to issue his points, as clearly identified on Veins “On my knees for you/Truth is always pain”. For the most part, the lyrics serve to add atmosphere to the music and allow the listener to deepen the experience, opening one’s mind to exploring trains of thought, previously pursued or not. The only track which bears a mark of his hardcore punk roots is Avalanche Master Song, whose full lyrics are highly intelligible, direct, and blatant in their subject matter:

You’re proud of being poor
Nothing changes nothing
You eat your skin
As if your soul never existed

Screw you and your world
Perpetually cut with lies
I could stand the pain
For long enough
But the taste is just
Too bitter

The Earache reissue features two bonus tracks which are remixes of the songs Wound (Tiny Tears EP) and Streetcleaner. Neither is anything particularly essential or moving. Like many of Justin’s remixes, I find them interesting and enjoyable to listen to here or there, but nothing of any real consequence. More like exercises in experimentation; not to be ingested for sustenance, but amuse bouche for the artist within us all, of however small ambition. The cover is an image taken from the beginning of the 1966 science-fiction film Seconds, directed by John Frankenheimer and starring Rock Hudson. Oddly, the same images were used in the title sequence of the 1991 remake of Cape Fear by Martin Scorcese (which the band would later wind up seeing, in the theater, together). While often cited as being “lo-fi” or having very basic/poor production qualities, I find the sound quality and overall recording/mixing to be basically perfect. Many later Godflesh releases have annoying mixing issues, for me at least, but here everything seems to be right there for you to hear cleanly, but still sounding like rusty metal being torn apart in a junkyard. Perfect.

There Will Be Blood (2007)

There Will Be Blood 2007There_Will_Be_Blood_Poster
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Notable Appearances: Daniel Day Lewis, Paul Dano
Genre: Drama, Period

Let’s get it right out of the way; this film owes everything to Stanley Kubrick. It is with both reverence and cold criticism that I remark that this could be slid right next to Eyes Wide Shut in the Kubrick box-set without most people evening noticing the difference. It’s all there; the detached storytelling, the long tracking shots, the framing of characters (both alone and in conversation), the sparse dialogue, the quiet/spacious atmosphere, the set-pieces, the detailed period-specifics, the insane main character, the black humor (as famous as Stanley and as black as the oil spewing from every corner of this story)… hell, even the end titles play in Kubrickian fashion. While this undeniable influence/theft-of-style can be critically seen as a detriment to the film – pulling away the curtain to reveal the Magician’s secrets, ruining the illusion – I really just don’t give a fuck. While this was directed by Paul Thomas Anderson (Magnolia, Boogie Nights, Punch Drunk Love), my brain doesn’t recognize that while watching this and instead I’m just enjoying another one of my favorite director’s masterpieces. And don’t be mistaken, this is a masterpiece. For the definition of a masterpiece is an artwork which announces to the world that an artist is no longer training, but has in fact achieved something great enough to be considered a master of their field. Originality be damned, P.T. has ascended to the ranks of Hitchcock, Scorcese, and yes, Kubrick. Sadly, Stanley is dead and won’t be making anymore movies. But Anderson will be. And now that we’ve completed that portion of this review, let’s actually talk about the movie.

Adapted from the book Oil! by Upton Sinclair (another classic Kubrick move), this is the story of oil-baron Daniel Plainview and his journey from young, starved, penniless prospector to wealthy, soulless, leader of the field. And the people he exploits and kills along the way. While the film can be enjoyed simply on the level of a Shakespearian, scandalous, and bloody rise of one man who sells his soul out of greed, it can also be enjoyed as a commentary on the American version of free-enterprise and organized religion. The DVD is packaged in an eco-friendly slipcase and the carbon usage of it’s production has been off-set so it should come as no surprise that the film is really a scathing indictment of both American staples. I’m always a bit surprised when I find that a film gets made which is so incredibly damning of the establishment, but then I remember most people are only paying attention to Daniel Day-Lewis’s crazed acting tour-de-force (although Paul Dano is quite good as well) and the eye-popping visuals (mostly achieved without the aid of CGI, thank you). Both of which are justly celebrated and both of which the film lives and dies on. And it knows it. So it does everything it can to highlight them both. And really, it’s a distillation of what films are truly made of; acting and cinematography. Also of note is Jonny Greenwood’s score (a member of Radiohead), which is understated and effective. This is a stellar portrait of artists working at the top of their game and it is not to be missed. A hard five stars.