Godflesh – Tiny Tears EP (Bonus Tracks; Earache 1989)


The Tiny Tears EP was originally intended to be the band’s second release after their self-titled album, but upon signing to Earache, the band was encouraged to create a full length record, and thus wound up with Streetcleaner.   The four tracks recorded for Tiny Tears (sometimes attributed to the fabled “Black EP”) were released as bonus tracks on Streetcleaner after having been remixed numerous times – they were recorded tuned down to B (something unheard of, at the time) and were apparently inaudible.  While technically not a separate release, the tone and quality of the songs differs so greatly from Streetcleaner that I consider them an entirely separate album.  The intended cover of the EP was based off of the image from Eraserhead pictured to the right, but the band had been unable to get a clean enough image of it to use (remember that at this time, Eraserhead was still only available in copies with poor reproduction, often leaving viewers unable to tell what the images were on the screen).

The most glaring difference from Streetcleaner to Tiny Tears is the song lengths.  While Streetcleaner is dominated by sweeping epics, grandiose in both scope and time, Tiny Tears’ songs are exactly that; small snapshots of deep emotional landscapes.  By far the most punk of all Godflesh’s releases, the longest number clocks in at just over four minutes and the songs are predominantly up-tempo and hammering affairs which rely on the grinding riffs and thumping basslines for motivational force as opposed to the inventive drum-machine programming found on Streetcleaner.  As such, it would come as little surprise to anyone that this is the collection of songs which sucked in this now-matured hardcore punker at a ripe young age.  At the same time, most fans and critics consider this a footnote in the band’s history; a trifle that hardly captures the essence of the band’s sound.  It’s unfortunate because this is both the most accessible of their works (making it a great starting point for fans of metal or hardcore who don’t vibe with industrial/electronic music), as well as the best suited for some old-fashioned rocking out.  There’s hardly any time spent sitting back, contemplating, expanding your mind, wallowing, brooding, or otherwise sitting still; just pure headbanging.  Which I am fine with; you don’t get that with any of their other releases and it makes for a prime soundtrack to running, biking, or any other physical activity.

Lyrically and vocally, these songs bear a closer resemblance to the self-titled EP over Streetcleaner.  Whereas Justin focused mainly on direct barks and growls on Streetcleaner, all of the songs on Tiny Tears employ the “clean singing” approach, coupled with an excessive reverb effect which makes them almost entirely illegible.  He explored this technique on the band’s first release (Veins, Spinebender), but these are the songs where you can see Justin getting really comfortable with how to utilize it, preparing himself for later releases (Slavestate, Pure, Selfless) where this effect would become transcendent.    By creating this ethereal voice, which can barely be understood, it feels as if some cosmic entity is communicating with the listener instead of a fault-ridden human.  On a more scientific approach; it allows the listener to experience the lyrics on an emotional level first and then fill in the details and contextual blanks him or herself.  However, this effect also has made deciphering the actual lyrical content on these songs very difficult and my hat goes off to those dedicated nerds who have sifted through and posted “close enough interpretations” for my purposes (still can’t find anything for Suction, though…).

There’s something incredibly zen about this release as Justine explores the same bleak landscape he’s treading on Streetcleaner, but here he’s so calm and composed as the bombs drop around him.  Lines such as “dying oceans, dead head, watching the figures, march without soul” are delivered with a soulful panache that makes them reassuring and clarifying rather than depressing and angsty.  Coupling that with the aforementioned Motorhead drive makes these songs almost revelatory; if it was possible for Godflesh to have “party jams” than these songs would be them.  This is the secret weapon that makes me love Godflesh so much; most “extreme” musical acts can articulate how awful something is and express anger or sadness eloquently, but it is a rare find to discover an artist, of any kind, who can articulate the feeling of awareness and experience of the horrible and miserable, but also the understanding of it’s inevitability and essential place within the human condition.  The machinations of our oppression may be destroyed, but there will always be a new beast of suffering.

These are blatantly some of the best early Godflesh songs and I’m adamant about the fact that if these tracks had come out as a separate release from Streetcleaner (before or afterwards), with full artwork and presentation, they would be considered by the masses to be up there with the two bookending releases.  Tiny Tears, being the title track, has garnered worthy attention, as well as Wound (mostly from having been re-mixed and re-released on the Slateman single), but the almost the entire world passes over Dead Head and Suction; two very powerful hidden gems.  Yes, these songs are not taken to the inevitable extremes that Godflesh’s sound dictated, but from a purely “are these good rock songs?” perspective; dynamite.

Here’s a pretty great video of the band performing Tiny Tears live @ a tiny club in 1990.  The boys are incredibly tight and Justin looks to be at his peak of looking sick and/or creepy live; http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RAFVZ3ticZQ

Godflesh – Streetcleaner (Earache 1989)


While this is widely cited in the “underground” community as the definitive Godflesh album, I have to go and take a massively differing stance on this one.  While I do acknowledge that this was a very groundbreaking work at the time of it’s release and it was responsible for catapulting the band to a level of notoriety that their first EP didn’t come close to, this is actually one of the more unsatisfying releases, for me, when compared with the rest of their catalog.  All things considered, this is probably a result of the immense pleasure I get from everything Godflesh and not that this is actually anything less than a solid album.  The band made their bones on this record and as such they established a reputation for a bleak, cold, emotionally barren aesthetic along with garage/basement level production qualities (almost unheard of for a band reliant so heavily on electronic sounds), but in light of the rest of their discography, this album is not the quintessential Godflesh record, if their even is one.

Justin has stated that this album was their clearest and most complete statement of intent; which makes sense.  The album is almost pathologically simple, direct, and monotonous in tone (“clear and complete statement of intent”), but it lacks the nuances of many of their other works and fails to take the listener to any place other than the depths of human suffering in a world of failing religious dogma, technological dominance at the cost of the natural world, and the sheer psychopathic insanity resulting from complex beings faced with an absurd new world order.  That said, it does provide the perfect sonic landscape to an exploration of those themes; an iron giant trudging forward in it’s relentless pursuit of heavy riffs, otherworldly noise from the abyss, and a new beat for a more mechanized humanity.

The album opens with two back-to-back hits; Like Rats and Christbait Rising.  Both tracks display this era of Godflesh at their finest; cut & chopped death metal inspired vocals running through a wilderness of otherworldly riffs over a bizarre hybrid of industrial and hip-hop beats (Justin was quoted as saying the beat for Christbait was a direct attempt to do something similar to Microphone Fiend by Eric B & Rakim – listen to the extended instrumental at the end of that track to understand).  Christbait Rising definitely ranks in the top 3 Godflesh songs, but the rest of the album is not of that quality and it devolves into a lot of “non-songs” on side B.  Which makes sense considering the two were recorded separately (May 1989 at Soundcheck in Birmingham for Side B, May-August 1989 at Square Dance in Derby for Side A).  None of it is bad, I just find at this point in time, with the entirety of the band’s catalog available for our listening pleasure, there are many better options which contain the same style or emotional angle.  Devastator and the title track’s opening incorporate non-musical samples to excellent aesthetic effect; heightening the aforementioned mood and provoking some deep thoughts when discernible.  The follow-up tracks to those beginnings (Mighty Trust Krusher and Streetcleaner) are concentrated doses of one or two great riffs and a slamming back-up of drum and bass hits; highly simplified which leads to an effective surface and immediate enjoyment, but a lack of depth or extension to the experience of appreciating these tracks.  Other tracks, such as Life Is Easy, are basically throwaways when you can listen to later albums with better expressions of the band’s intentions.  However, Locust Furnace, the closing number, is another highlight for me as it is about as bleak and crushing as the band gets.

The entire album considers the vocal/lyrical portion of the band to be fundamentally another instrument, adding a layer of tone and noise to the mix as opposed to being a detailed narrative/explanation, back-lit by the instruments.  Brief, simple lyrics such as “Stylized/Deformity/Don’t look back/You were dead from the beginning” or “Vision, Escape/Vision, This feels right/Hell, Is where I lie/Now take the power, When we all die” depict a very specific world-view through tight-lipped certainty; there is no contemplation or dialogue, just a stoic observation.  Justin declares, in broad strokes, that there is nothing of value in this world, there is no redemption for it, and it is not worth the time to debate the nuances.  This concentrated force of one man’s emotionally-driven intellectualized worldview is certainly effective in evoking an emotional reaction in the listener and boiling reality down to the lowest common denominator for easy understanding (even if that understanding does hinge on one’s own acceptance of the futility in all things), it is unfortunately simplistic.  Juvenile in the sense of being but one important step on a journey to deeper understanding.  A pursuit of understanding of life, the self, and existence which Justin would continue to pursue through his entire catalog.  Along the way, he would reach much greater heights than this album, but he could never have touched any of them without first eating the dirt in his earliest works.

So for those interested in dark, dirty, lo-fi music, this is a great starting point for the band.  It’s understandable how much of the extreme music community prefers this above all other records in the band’s catalog as it is the closest they come to being an easily classifiable “extreme metal” act as well as an easily digestible package for the average darkness and riffage junkie, but to me, it lacks the challenging qualities which they would explore later; spirituality unbound by dogma instead of simple condemnation of religion or the importance of appreciating suffering and it’s part to play in our lives, as examples.

In 2010 Earache released a 2 disc remastered version of the album which contains bonus tracks ranging from the interesting (unreleased original mixes for the first recording session) to the unnecessary (rehearsal tapes for songs you already are getting two versions of on the album?).  What is really worthwhile about the reissue is the remastered version.  It is what I consider to be exactly what a remaster should sound like; no re-recorded instrumentation or previously omitted guitar tracks added in, just straight up re-adjusting the levels on raw tracks to make it sound louder, heavier, and clearer.  While I know that the album’s original quality is very important as a piece of artistic history and that those who bought the album when it was initially released want to hear it as it sounded, warts and all, given the limitations of technology and what was available to the boys, at that time, I’m thrilled to throw this sucker on and actually have a sledgehammer of noise slam me in the chest instead of just a rusty mallet.

Final note; the cover of this album is derived from a drug-induced trip during the film Altered States, a fitting work of art about human evolution (physically, mentally, and spiritually), expanded modes of consciousness, and the dissolution of social paradigms under the influence of other planes of existence.  It’s a fucking cool flick.

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.