Godflesh - Streetcleaner (1989)
“Streetcleaner” is one of those albums you HAVE to hear if you want to know what extreme metal is all about. It is heavier, more intoxicating, and more utterly despairing than whatever fucking Avenged Sevenfold shite YOU currently listen to.
The whole thing is an experience; you can’t listen to it and not be drawn into it, and you can’t just leave it on as background noise. Its sickening pounding will infect your VERY FUCKEN SOUL every time you listen to it.
Right away when you start the album the disgustingly heavy and frighteningly simple riffs hit you in the cunt, and the remorseless drum machine beats steamroll your mind into submission to the music’s utter depressitude. “Like Rats” is ugly, horrific, and will make you feel like worms are crawling around in your gut. That’s the whole point. So few extreme metal albums truly feel this HEAVY; it’s a disc you have to be in the mood for because if you’re not prepared for it it will send you into the fetal position forever. Just in the first track the hauntingly simple riffs and unsettling harmonized vocals grab my intestines and never let go. And the epic follow-up “Christbait Rising” features only two riffs in seven minutes; but what truly timeless and perfect riffs they are. The main one is a ringing minor-key dirge, but the breakdown is a death metal riff so almost unbearably (and intentionally) out of tune that it sends shivers up my asshole every time I hear it.
“Dream Long Dead” may be the most horrifying piece of music I’ve ever heard. If you can listen to this song and be happy, then you’re Mother Teresa and why are you fucking reading my blog. The guitar hook is entirely harmonized in minor seconds, and it sounds so sickening that in my drunken state while listening to this album again, I just puked a little in my mouth. I mean seriously, this album made me throw up literally, how fucken metal is that. “DLD” also features the absolute MOTHER of all simple breakdowns. Sure, it’s a rip-off of Slayer’s “Raining Blood”, but Godflesh utilize the idea in a far more brutal and impactful way.
It’s interesting to listen to this album again more than a year after I first discovered it, and especially right after first listening to Napalm Death’s classic “Scum”. As fellow personnel-minutiae freaks know, Godflesh mastermind/guitarist/vocalist Justin Broadrick was the guitarist on the first side of “Scum” and it’s fascinating to see how he’s progressed from a promising and innovative but untight hardcore punker to the emotionless, jangling machine he is on “Streetcleaner”. The guitar parts on this album only rarely break into a bona fide riff, preferring to wail away in cold-sounding higher notes and discordant melodies for most of the time. The bass work by G.C. Green takes over the role the guitar usually takes on metal albums: pounding heavily and relentlessly on the low string. The layers upon layers of dissonant guitars over throbbing bass and mesmerizing programmed drums are the foundation of the entire industrial metal sound. “Streetcleaner” is THE industrial metal album; all others bow to it and call it Father and suck its mangled, diseased cock.
It’s also interesting that the drum machine in this music is used as an artistic choice as much as a personnel necessity. The drum parts are repetitive, unforgiving, and absolutely uncaring for conventional notions of fills, beat changes, or intellectual interest. Like almost all of the rest of the music’s components, the drum sound is unfeeling, mindless, and demoralizing.
I say “almost” because there is the case of the vocal performance. Broadrick’s desperate death-howls are excruciatingly emotional throughout. “You breed…like rats!” from guess-which-track and the eerie echoed lines in “Christbait Rising” stick out in my mind as memorable, and the ever-intensifying repetition of the title of “Locust Furnace” at the end of the song makes the hair on my balls stand up, but you can feel the desperation and terror poured into every line on the album.
Though the tracks I didn’t mention by name aren’t as instantly classic as the ones I did (because the ones I did are doing did done, of the doing of done of do did), they are perfect continuation of the gripping, apocalyptic sound of the more readily memorable tracks of the record. Though the first two tracks and “Dream Long Dead” really stand out to me as unfuckwithable, stone-cold greats, the whole album is to be considered as a state of mind rather than a collection of songs or music. And as a state-of-mind-creator, “Streetcleaner” is nearly unparalleled.
9/10: Not an album you tell your friends about, but one you put on at 5 in the morning when you’re drunk and all alone. Like I am right now.
Listen to: “Dream Long Dead”
P.S.: The last four tracks on the standard release of this album were originally intended to be an EP, and they should have been. They sound completely different than the album material in production and composition techniques, and ruin the perfect album ending that is “Locust Furnace”. It’s a shame, because they’re fine industrial songs (especially the upbeat, catchy, but still creepy “Dead Head” ), even though the production is murky and the guitar especially is squashed. Just being stuck on the end of such an exhausting monolith of an album makes them tiresome before they even begin. Like I said, as a separate short release as intended, they would have been more than fine. Appended to the album, they actually hurt the overall package. I tend to listen to them entirely separate to the main “Streetcleaner” tracks.
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