Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Godflesh - Hymns (2001) 86/100.

Most die hard Godflesh fans will tell you that ‘Hymns’ is the beginning of Justin’s move from industrial to blissful drone in the form of Jesu and, in all probability, they’re right. The name for Justin’s current main project Jesu was even taken from the last song to this record which is perhaps a sign of how closely related ‘Hymns’ is to the material of Jesu over their entire career when his works for that particular band are meshed together. From the blissful droning sounds of the self-titled full-length, to the soulful and upbeat mid-to-latter-day era material that saw shoegazing become apart of the furniture. ‘Hymns’, although still loosely related to Godflesh’s other records, though not especially the earliest releases like the much respected ‘Streetcleaner’, or ‘Slavestate’, is more of a stripped down version of the band and portrayed in a more positive manner because, as far as I am aware, their material was very negative during much of their career. I don’t much consider myself a die hard fan of Godflesh because I arrived at the part late and unannounced. I wasn’t invited and just happened to stumble across this industrial based act when looking back over the long and illustrious career of the main man himself, Justin Broadrick. Although I probably wouldn’t consider ‘Hymns’ an essential record to all, it certainly features in my list of Broadrick’s most impressive records over his entire career.

As always, I started with Godflesh’s most recent records, including the likes of both ‘Songs of Love And Hate’ and ‘Us And Them’, though more so the former than the latter. In fact, for a number of months I was addicted to the original version of ‘Songs of Love And Hate’ and the in dub version which was released as an EP a year after the original. Those two formed my opinions of Godflesh, so the move from ‘Songs of Love And Hate’ to ‘Hymns’ isn’t a particularly long journey as the two have a number of things in common. However, the journey for those who began at the beginning of the career of the band is much harder and longer to stomach since their material has evolved from an aloof industrial act based around negative ideas to an accessible, catchy and perhaps even fun outfit that makes it easier for newcomers to appreciate and takes less effort to become involved in the emotive aspects of the band since the latter day material is so damn infectious with its heavy riffing and entrancing atmospherics. Songs like the incredible ‘Anthem’ are even more so accessible to people like me who found Jesu before I discovered Godflesh as there are a number of similarities in the way in which the songs pan out to Jesu’s career, as opposed to the earlier works of the band itself, such as ‘Streetcleaner’.

‘Anthem’, for instance, takes on Justin’s vocal approach for Jesu and enhances it by placing thick, glorious guitar riffs behind it to back it up like some sort of wing man. Although the vocals do alter on certain songs, one’s like ‘Anthem’ and the mesmerising ‘Voidhead’ showcase the type of clean vocals Justin performs on the mighty Jesu and with the infectious, upbeat style of musicianship, the songs begin to become more akin to that of Jesu than Godflesh. However, as I previously stated, the vocals do have a habit of altering and, even on ‘Voidhead’, Justin takes a different approach and begins to shout from the back of the throat with an added sense of disgust and self-loathing, though this doesn’t appear to match the harsh emotive patterns of earlier records with his harsher vocals seeming more out of place than those of the cleaner style. Essentially, for most die hard fans, this is probably where the downfall of the record is. If Justin had perhaps performed a different style with Jesu, then maybe old school fans could have grown to like this record but Jesu are, seemingly, hard to appreciate for a number of people since they lack the aggression that forged Justin’s career.

There is some form of aggression on this record which songs like ‘Tyrant’ highlight closely as they omit the clean vocals of Justin and bring back the screams. Seemingly, it is in the vocals where both the love and hatred of this record spurs from. The harsher vocals are adored and Justin’s cleaner singing voice is loathed, though I tend to like it myself. Some might suggest it wasn’t until Jesu’s mid era material that Justin “perfected” his cleaner style (which begins to become a factor on the final song, the epic ‘Jesu’, which features a much softer sound), but I believe he does pretty well at melding a cleaner voice into a heavy and draining atmosphere which is home to a number of thick, sludge like anthems such as ‘White Flag’ which performs at a much slower pace than the average song, which is usually far more upbeat and less intoxicating, though the use of a drummer works hard to keep that feel of a drug trip at the forefront of the atmospherics. Although a rather simplistic affair, with much repetition to really enhance the mesmerising feel, this record is a terrific swansong for Godflesh with perfected production values that allow every ounce of the passion that was put into it to be audibly heard and one I have grown to treasure. Dynamic.

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