Release DetailsLABEL Earache
RELEASED ON 10/1/1989
posted on 3/2004 By:
Context is very important when discussing an older record. Things that seem commonplace in music at the point we inhabit may not have been so when a particular record was released. It's hard to listen to a Beatles record now and appreciate what actually had to happen for it to turn out the way it did, because now any fuckhead with a computer and microphone can make something interesting, and prefab pop has been the wayandmean of the last several decades. It's just hard for us to imagine a time when the line between pop and rock didn't really exist, when DIY meant show up and be handed a musical number written by someone else that you got to play...sometimes...yourself.
On the other hand, sometimes you are staring at Godflesh. And although there IS a context to "Streetcleaner" that makes it incredible, it doesn't need that context. "Streetcleaner" is very arguably the best Godflesh album because it was the first exposure most of us around at the time had to this duo. I remember it as a moment from a radio show I used to tape and listen to at work. The show was on very late and I would actually set my alarm clock to start recording it and then to turn over and change tapes. It meant that much to me. It was a local community radio program hosted by "Brad", and it contained the underground. It was mainly a punk show, but there were segments dedicated to the burgeoning political rap scene, garage, pregrunge, berkeley, reggae and metal.
And it was all pretty far underground, although what I heard then would now read like a who's who of nineties rock culture. I had my mind blown and my paradigm shifted at least once a week from that show. Figure it was the very late eighties, very early nineties, and I like most of my generation had grown up believing that Metal was something that happened in the way to a band's true goal of being famous. Metal was what Whitesnake did before you heard them, or Def Leppard used to propel themselves onto the charts before releasing "Pyromania". It was for the young, and slightly naive, and it passed after about two albums.
Even stalwart bands like Iron Maiden and Metallica didn't seem able to maintain the ferocity that brought you to them in the first place, eventually releasing vague rehashings of former glory. At least they (at the time) seemed to remain true to their fanbase. Most of your favorite metal bands either went nowhere or ended up doing MTV's Spring Break specials. To get what you needed you had to SEARCH. And the KRCL show was like the Library of Alexandria for the lover of harsh music. It was where all the maps to all the treasures were found.
So it was that one day while doing my technical drawings of A-10s and F-16s and listening to the tapes I had made to pass the time "Brad" fired up a segment taken almost entirely from from Earache's origional GrindCrusher compilation. I had heard early Napalm Death and the like, but somehow it had gotten washed in with the other records they played on that show. This was a block, maybe a half hour of nothing but neuvodeath metal from the label that, along with Relativity, remains carved into my memory as synonymous with Death Metal. If you have that comp, or have heard it, you know what it contained; Morbid Angel, Carcass, Napalm, Bolt Thrower...Godflesh.
Now the other songs by the other bands were incredible...HEAVY in texture, not just style. This was a series of bands that captured the real meaning of heavy in their recordings, a dirty, moist, thick and enormous sound that defines what the Heavy in heavy metal ought to be. But Godflesh was even something else. The song was "Streetcleaner", six minutes of "Apocalypse", half a dozen of "Nightmare". I was even then inured to savage lyrical imagery and the brutal attack of bands like Slayer and Testament. But where Slayer wrote about Hell, Godflesh created it. Every nuance, every moment was an uncalculated calculation to show you exactly what suffering would sound like, what the damned would hear for eternity, what the psychotic played in their heads as they killed. "Streetcleaner" was almost too pure to handle, a ruthlessly mechanical beat juxtaposed with a perfectly carnal and hopelessly living performance by Justin Broderick and J.C Green. Moreover, Green's overly simplified, distorted bass lines forged the harness that bound the programmed drum machine to Justin's utterly terrifying guitarwork. What amounts to two notes with accents became hypnotically beautiful and awful and spellbinding.
It took a long time for me to track down the record that contained this demon, but I did. A friend of a friend made me a tape. And what the compilation track had begun, the album completed. Every moment, every second was a completely new experience. From the opening fade in to "Like Rats" to the excruciating climax of "Locust Furnace", simple musicianship had become a thing of the past. A means to an end. Here was a project that removed everything virtuostic from music and left you with pure emotion, pure movement and texture. Broderick's completely unselfconscious and hopeless double tracked wailing brought a more human element to the table than all the screeching metal supermodels could approach, and the way the two men (and, on the second half of the record, guitarist Paul Neville) created hidden melodies from the interplay of the barely tuned and massively distorted instruments held me rapt. I can still remember the visions in my mind as the record changed up with the ballad "Life is Easy", with its agonizing mantra comparing existence with debt, brought forth by the layered vocals and dirge tempo, and I still shudder at them. This was a moment in time, a thing that was created by one vision and that could never really be replicated by anyone, anywhere - perhaps even Godflesh.
The group went on to record some of the most interesting records of the nineties, giving us "Pure", "Selfless", "Songs of Love and Hate"...and the almost devastating EP "Merciless". But "Streetcleaner" was a purely contrary document to anything I had heard before, and probably since. It's a masterpiece of anti-music, completely at odds with anything that makes musical sense, yet forever enthralling as a musical experience. It has context, but it also has never been duplicated, and that is a monumental rarity in any type of music. If you haven't had a chance to experience Godflesh and this album in particular, then you have utterly missed the point of Modern music. Remedy this.
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