Godflesh, Decline and Fall: To Reside In

One of the most challenging factors in listening to Decline and Fall objectively, or even attempting to do so, is in separating the reality of the four songs included from the fact that it’s Godflesh. Not just Godlesh, but new Godflesh, and the first new Godflesh since 2001’s swansong full-length, Hymns. Among bands both in the heavy underground and the wider sphere of metal, there have been few acts who’ve had the kind of influence Godflesh have within that 13-year span. To name three others in varied styles: Opeth, Neurosis, Meshuggah. That’s the caliber of contribution, and some 25 years on from their landmark 1989 debut, Streetcleaner, Godflesh hold firm to the core of what made their approach so singular and so heavy to begin with — the industrial churn and aggressive sensibility. Founding guitarist/vocalist/programmer Justin K. Broadrick has cemented a legacy via his work in the more melodic, ambient Jesu, who arrived in 2004 named for the final Godflesh song on Hymns with a style that seemed bent on exploring the open spaces that Godflesh turned claustrophobic, but there’s no question Godflesh has endured a relevance beyond their original tenure and one that continues to flourish in an industrial revival today. So how on earth does one listen to the Decline and Fall EP (out through Broadrick‘s own Avalanche Recordings) and separate these tracks from the massive influence that Broadrick and founding bassist G.C. Green have had on the heaviness that has followed in their lumbering wake?

Beats the hell out of me.

Since Broadrick and Green began playing shows again, the discussion inevitably turned to new material resulting from the reunion. The reality of Godflesh circa 2014 probably isn’t so far disengaged from what the reality of Godflesh circa 2003 or 2004 might’ve been. In a way, the four included pieces, “Ringer,” “Dogbite,” “Playing with Fire” and “Decline and Fall” are almost too easy to read as Godflesh picking up where they left off. Breaking cleanly into two vinyl sides with a more melodic track — “Ringer” and “Playing with Fire” — and a harsher one — “Dogbite” and “Decline and Fall” — on each as typified by Broadrick‘s vocal approach, Decline and Fall neatly answers some of the progressiveness Hymns presented and Broadrick went on to refine with Jesu, most notably the more open feel and steady use of melody, but it also seems to have come from an alternate reality in which that refining process hasn’t already played out in the way it has. That is to say, Decline and Fall is Godflesh. It sounds like Godflesh from the static noise that opens “Ringer” to the double-timed beats that cap “Decline and Fall” and with every chugging riff in between. Circumstantially — not sonically — it’s not unlike Floor‘s recent release of their first post-reunion album, Oblation, which arrived after several years of playing shows and found a guitarist returning to the band in which he cut his teeth after continuing the creative evolution with another act. Broadrick‘s success with Jesu little informs the songs on Decline and Fall, and while that project has its distinct appeal, keeping them separate unquestionably works to the favor of both. What the EP winds up feeling like is the result of someone trying on an old outfit and finding out it still fits, but with songwriting. Over a decade later, it wasn’t clear what Godflesh would be or how much the intervening years and experiences would play into the songs. It turns out that what makes Godflesh Godflesh has remained intact.

At the same time, particularly “Ringer” and “Playing with Fire” — which both top six minutes while “Dogbite” and “Decline and Fall” hover on either side of four — demonstrate that although Godflesh has come to represent a certain sonic signature, that the sound even now is not static or not able to continue growing. All four tracks are thick toned, heavy, and aggressive, but the first and third remind that Godflesh was never quite the same as one release fed into the next, and that to expect them to come back now and be the same isn’t appropriate or realistic. The EP works like a demo in that way, in that its relatively quick 21 minutes serve notice of Godflesh‘s status as a fluid, moving entity, not something bent on recapturing the past, but something working from that past toward new aims. Where those aims might go is no clearer now than it was when Broadrick first moved from Godflesh to Jesu, but Decline and Fall manages to accomplish giving this notice with an efficiency one might expect from such experienced players, and more over, it puts the band’s followers in a better mindset expectation-wise for what a full-length might sound like upon its arrival than they might be without. As Broadrick and Green continue to push into the uncharted territory of their apparently ongoing reunion and revive Godflesh as a creative outlet, this can only serve them well, and likewise, for fans, Decline and Fall feeds a longstanding hunger and begins to answer the question of what might have been. It is dark and grey and consuming and beautiful, and every bit an appropriate and welcome reintroduction.

Godflesh, Decline and Fall EP (2014)

Godflesh on Bandcamp

Avalanche Inc.

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