Album Review : Godflesh - Streetcleaner (1989)
Godflesh is a British industrial metal band formed by Justin Broadrick and G.C Green in 1988. Everybody knows who they are but few people actually followed their career. They are "influential" like Joy Division is to the New Wave and post-punk movements or Kraftwerk is to contemporary electronic music. They're more important than popular *. What is the legacy of Godflesh, though? A band that is still active today, heading into their third decade of existence. Whenever someone mentions their unholy name, their debut full-length album Streetcleaner is frequently associated with the discussion. I wanted to introduce you this timeless achievement in sonic aggression for horroctober for a simple reason: it is the soundtrack to your worst nightmares. Streetcleaner is an album that chases you down the hallways of your own subconcious.
The first thing to know about Streetcleaner is that it isn't about the lyrics. There are very little on each songs and they don't make a lot of sense and this is by design. The audio mix of Streetcleaner conceals the vocals of Justin Broadrick and they merge into the wall of sound even at the highest volume. Broadrick's performance does have high moments, though. For example, he finishes the song "Pulp" with angry, guttural, wordless screams that never fail to raise the hair on my neck. Broadrick modulates his voice throughout the entirety of Streetcleaner, ranging from a Tom G. Warrior-like growl to an echoing, almost Gregorian chant depending on the atmosphere of the song and it always remain a key factor despite that the lyrics aren't super deep. Streetcleaner is an album you'll remember lines and moments from and not necessarily entire songs, hence its immense re-listenability.
Now, let's tackle the important part of Streetcleaner: the freakin' music. There's a recurring theme of repetition on this album, which is shrewdly developed by Justin Broadrick and G.C Green. The overbearing,obsessive, pulse-pounding rhythm section of Streetcleaner can be off-putting at first, like a first day at the factory. They're at the forefront of the mix too. It denotes alienation and you need to accept this alienation in order to access the subtleties of Streetcleaner, which are best enjoyed at maximum volume, so in good industrial music tradition, it's an album that takes from you as much as it gives. It's a bit on an endurance run in which you need to find your own groove. The thudding bass and deafening, mid-tempo drum machines of Streetcleaner really are a canvas Justin Broadrick and G.C Green are working from. They aren't the most interesting aspect of the album, but they are the most necessary to its atmosphere.
Now, I have a soft spot for songs that use vocal samples on that record. Nothing against Justin Broadrick's vocals which are deceptively subtle and sophisticated, but I find that sampling enhances the desolate and hostile atmosphere they're going for best. So, my favorite song on the record is actually Streetcleaner (available above), which samples serial killer Henry Lee Lucas' confession saying: "I didn't hear voices. It was a conscious decision on my part. It was a power thing. I simply acted on my own fantasies," which has been referred to as more or less then band's manifesto (or early manifesto, whatever). Another song I really loved was Devastator, which doesn't have any lyrics until the last minute. It samples angry, confused and sometimes terrified voices throughout. It has to be one of the most terrifying songs I've ever heard. It feels haunted.
Last aspect of Streetcleaner I want to discuss here is Justin Broadrick and Paul Neville's guitars. They are very uncommon metal guitars and they are perhaps best put forward in songs like Head Dirt or another personal favorite of mine, Mighty Trust Krusher. The guitar riffs on Streetcleaner are slow, lingering and high pitched. That is perhaps the most interesting part of this album's legacy because you can find riffs like this a lot in today's doom metal, but they are used much differently. Sunn O))), amongst others, are influenced by Streetcleaner, except they play their riffs at an incredibly low, gurgling pitch. The guitars on this album are both aggressive and nuanced. They conflict with the wall of low-pitched aggression created by the rhythm section and create something that was entirely new back then. To be fair, there hasn't been much that measures up to the vivid nightmare atmosphere of Streetcleaner for the last twenty-six years.
In order to understand and appreciate Streetcleaner, it is important to appreciate industrial music. It is a genre that blends organic and electronic music in order to shock and redefine perception. It is not meant to be easy listening by any means and Streetcleaner is the farthest thing from that. The album is a foul-mouthed dare. I really enjoy this album because of its technical and artistic mastery. I've hung out with musicians all my life and listened to plenty of technical stuff that doesn't have a point outside of displaying technical mastery. Justin Broadrick, who is recognized as a musical genius by pretty much everybody who knows who he is, had a point to make with Streetcleaner. A vision to express. The album is a monument to that vision and it is still standing tall today. I've listened to the most fucked up, extreme music. I had every Abruptum release on my hard drive forever. In terms of pure haunting, nightmare vision, not that many bands and artists can hold a candle to Godflesh's Streetcleaner.
* Which always is a sign of integrity.