“Have you ever participated in genocide?” When I interviewed Justin Broadrick in 2007, he said he was asked that question while applying for a trip to the United States for the first time after 9/11. His anecdote was good for a sick laugh; Broadrick can be funny, despite his reputation as a poker-faced purveyor of extreme metal, shoegaze, and industrial music as a former or current member of the British groups Napalm Death, Jesu, and the resurrected Godflesh, among others. But his silly story about genocide is also indicative of the way absurdity and security can go hand in hand, especially in a world where safety is, at best, a collective hallucination. Its guarantors can’t even keep knife-wielding maniacs from sprinting into the White House, let alone regular people from being beheaded. Existence, even with all its modern safeguards, is fragile, and rarely does it feel more so than when you’re listening to Broadrick’s music.
A World Lit Only by Fire is Godflesh’s first album in 13 years. Their last, 2001’s Hymns, effectively disassembled itself in order for Broadrick to scavenge its chassis for scraps, which he then used to build Jesu. Most obviously, the final track of Hymns is titled “Jesu”— but instead of being a swansong, it was a two-part, 13-minute premonition of what was to come. Jesu went on to indulge Broadrick’s latent love of shoegaze and melody, but it retained every milligram of Godflesh’s heaviness; when Broadrick issued Godflesh’s comeback EP, Decline and Fall, earlier this year, it wasn’t so much a return to form as a transference of force. But where Decline and Fall unlocked the door, A World Lit Only by Fire knocks down the entire wall surrounding it. “New Dark Ages” is the record’s method of entry, and it’s accordingly annihilative: A spindly beat pulls back the skin to reveal sleek, minimalist musculature, and those riffs crush Broadrick’s windpipe as he gets biblical with his opening warning: “Don’t look back/ We’ll dissolve”. The resurgence of fundamentalist medievalism have been a concern of industrial music ever since SPK’s 1983 classic “Another Dark Age”— and “New Dark Ages” casts that creeping fear in a coat of millennial chrome.
Much of the album doggedly refuses to deviate from the template of “New Dark Ages”, which itself isn’t that much of a departure from what Godflesh laid down on their 1989 debut album, Streetcleaner. The roboticized crust of the Godflesh of old, though, has been trimmed to fit an even bleaker era. Instead of being discreet compositions, these songs are segments of a single continuum, amputated from each other. “Shut Me Down”,“Curse Us All”, and “Carrion” flow into each other—inasmuch as anything on such a tense, brittle album could be said to flow—with an almost martial uniformity. The distinctions are in the shades of texture and syncopation. In some places, bassist G.C. Green evokes the corroded-carburetor clang of Big Black; elsewhere, Broadrick’s righteous roar gets caught in the gears of the album’s drum-machine march, if not the hopelessness of its protests.
Broadrick first flexed his skills as a slightly more conventional singer/songwriter in Jesu, but he’d begun exploring tunefulness toward the end of Godflesh’s first run. That eerie blend of ugliness and melody doesn’t crop up often on A World Lit Only by Fire; when it does, it’s for terrific effect. “Life Giver Life Taker” and “Imperator” mix wailing echoes and spectral chants with chiseled riffs and insectoid rhythms, while “Towers of Emptiness” and “Forgive Our Fathers” trail off the same way—with Broadrick’s voice, naked and human, hovering over ghostly drones and incanting the title of the track like it’s a faded memory. “Forgive Our Fathers” is particularly gorgeous; ditching his cyborg-barbarian howl halfway through, he switches to the melancholy coo of Jesu just long enough to trap and loop the song’s lingering anguish in an apocalyptic fugue. As a whole, A World Lit Only by Fire represents music converted into motion—kinetic and mechanical, inexorable and inhuman. Godflesh, never a forgiving band, has never sounded so relentless.
from Album Reviews – Pitchfork http://ift.tt/1vEGnLI