I was saddened at the loss of Godflesh, but long before their dissolution Godflesh had ceased to be what interested me in them in the first place.
I found them in 1992, eager to seek out something newer and heavier than anything else I could find: Industrial sufficed only so much before it felt like the bands were simply making ugly noises. I wanted ugly noises that dripped with meaning. I found that in Godflesh’s epic Pure, 80 minutes of the ugliest, most pummelling metal I’d ever heard up to that point. Bass, guitar, and a drum machine was all it took, along with some of the densest distortion I’ve ever heard. Vocals were an afterthought: Guitarist Justin Broadrick’s hoarse utterings were barely noticeable over the barrier of repetitive, distorted chords.
What Godflesh excelled at was creating a landscape of heaviness. No solos, no real choruses. Just wave after wave of mutilated sound, and it was beautiful. That they managed to follow up Pure with an album that was somehow even heavier was something that still astonishes me. In fact, Selfless still blows my mind to this day.
Unfortunately, after Selfless, Godflesh seemed to lose its way. They hired a live performer in the form of Brian “Brain” Mantia — a great drummer, no doubt, but adding a human element removed some of the appeal. The cold, calculated pounding that the drum machine offered was replaced by Brain’s heavy touch, but it added a fluidity that undermined the core of Godflesh. It just didn’t feel right.
As often happens with bands, a major change like this forced them to turn a corner permanently, and they never recorded anything that approached the epic proportions of their early work. When they broke up in 2002, it was a sad event, but more because simply no one made metal like this.
Luckily, Chicago’s Pelican came along and picked up where Godflesh left off after Selfless - yes, with a live drummer, but they did it right and they left out the vocals all together. What was most intriguing about Pelican’s music was that, while it was as heavy and dark as Godflesh in their heyday, Pelican wasn’t afraid to step out into the light once in while by switching over to major-scales from the heavy metal staple that minor-scales are. (Yes, it really can be done and still sound heavy as all get-out.)
The hallmarks are are here: 16-tons of distortion, repetition, long songs (10+ generally). Still, you might worry that without vocals to move a song along, it might get boring quickly. But it never did: Where Godflesh made an art out of making the most of a single riff, Pelican was crafty enough to weave the repetition in and out of different segments of the song — and not afraid to slip into acoustic mode here and there.
In short, it was, and is, riveting and beautiful.