When a band does something unique, it's not long before other musicians draw inspiration from it. The innovator steps to the foreground, those they have influenced assemble in their shadow, and a subgenre emerges. Labels move in to get a piece of this "new thing," and it proliferates from there. This unfurls over a period of a few years. Bands either evolve or disappear. Something once unique that is no longer the "new thing" is less captivating to a label waiting for the cycle to repeat itself.
Godflesh debuted with their self-titled EP in 1988 on Swordfish Records, but it was the original Grindcrusher compilation—released in 1989 by Earache—that exposed them to a wider audience. I have been a fan ever since, and they are one of the few projects to have fundamentally changed my thinking about music.
The glorious resurrection of Godflesh got me thinking about the late-'80s and early-'90s, when every label had their "Godflesh band." Many of that first wave were formidable, but none birthed a discography with the breadth and quality of the seed that spawned them.
Pitchshifter released Industrial in 1991 on Peaceville side label Deaf Records. It was both derivative and distinct from what Godflesh had done to that point. The influence and feel was clear, but Pitchshifter had an extra layer of grime. They also infused a sense of momentum to the dirge that gave them their own character. They joined Godflesh on Earache for their next release, Submit, in 1992. These two releases are classics of the industrial metal style that was emerging then.
When Desensitized was released in 1993, Pitchshifter had shed some of the obvious influence and were branching out by adding a little of the more commercial flavors of bands like Ministry at the time. Desensitized is still very good, but the releases that followed became more commercial in sound—even as the politics that had always been part of the band remained. They were using a more commercial sound to attack consumerism and commercialism, and—while noble—in a sense it was less listenable. After four more albums, the project folded in 2002.
I always felt like Skin Chamber got overlooked, even at the time. In 1991, R/C Records (a division of Roadracer) released Wound. Skin Chamber was a side project of Controlled Bleeding masterminds Paul Lemos and Chris Moriarty. With their long history in noise and experimental music feeding Skin Chamber, they created a visceral, corrosive beast of an album. This was followed-up in 1993 with Trial, on Roadrunner, and continued the scathing crush that was Skin Chamber.
Those two albums were all they left us before returning to Controlled Bleeding and other affiliated projects. There were a couple of compilation tracks and a split 7" released under the name Fat Hacker that were in a very similar vein. Skin Chamber was probably the most primal of this herd of bands. Their short life only adds to the weight of their contributions.
1992 saw the release of Collusion, from Dead World, on Relapse Records. To weave together the mechanized plod of their more traditional songs, Dead World brought in experimental/ambient passages to bridge the tracks. With 1993's The Machine, on Nuclear Blast/Release, the band's unique character really emerged. The vocal approach was more understated, and the experimental elements grew more involved.
Mastermind Jonathan Canady would go on to form power electronics behemoth Deathpile, as well as the more restrained but no less evocative Angel of Decay, and numerous collaborative projects. In 1996, Thanatos Descends was released on his own Malsonus label, and where The Machine had taken a more restrained approach, Thanatos Descends swung in the opposite direction musically and lyrically. It pushed toward the extremes that would later become fully realized in Deathpile. This release would be the final statement from Dead World, as his musical interests led him further into experimental/noise.
Soulstorm released Darkness Visible on Metal Blade in 1992, and added a Canadian voice to the conversation. While Darkness Visible didn't necessarily bring in a new element the way that Skin Chamber or Dead World did, and didn't ooze with the passion of Pitchshifter, it was nonetheless a solid outing that does hold up pretty well. In 1994, Cargo Records released the follow-up, From Euphoria to Paranoia. I remember feeling underwhelmed by this one when it was released. Perhaps because at this point we were a good five years into the sound, perhaps because there wasn't a lot of the evolution present here that the other standout bands had introduced, I'm not really sure. Listening to it again now, I think the guitar tone just doesn't land with the weight that this style demands, and the vocals diversify in ways that don't serve the music that well. It feels thin.
Those things kept From Euphoria... from pushing the band forward, and with the decidedly less metal Cargo Records backing them, they faded into obscurity. There were a couple of self-releases before calling it quits in 1999. 2012 saw them re-emerge with the release of their third full-length record, Fall of the Rebel Angels. I was unaware of this, but am now curious to see where it falls in the spectrum of their writing, and in this larger sound.
Slightly late to the party, but worth mentioning, 1995 saw the release of the Your Vision Leaves Me Blind 7" on Profane Existence, followed-up with 1996's Everything Burns, from Christdriver. This album never really broke through to the metal or industrial crowds in the same way as the others, but it's worth mentioning because this style had filtered all the way out to an anarcho-punk label like Profane Existence. Christdriver brings some of that attitude and aesthetic to the mix to give them their own flavor, and while the tracks can sometimes feel overly long and lack some of the dynamics of their better-known comrades, it is a worthy release.
It was difficult to pick only five. Others of note include Sonic Violence (with releases on Peaceville and affiliated labels), Treponem Pal on R/C Records, Candiru on Relapse, Cable Regime, a lackluster release by forefathers Head of David... there were demo bands like Depressor, Centrifuge, Goliah, and I even had one myself called Cinder Skin.
While all of these projects were coming and going, evolving and vanishing, Godflesh continued to write albums that were fresh and yet maintained their clear voice. They grew, and introduced new elements that had a diehard fan like myself initially suspicious, but the heart and character of the band remained and always won me over. With the release of the Decline & Fall EP and the new album, A World Lit Only by Fire, they have returned to a modernized version of their roots, and shown once again why theirs is the name that gets attributed to starting this whole wave of music.
By bringing together elements of Swans, Slab!, Killing Joke, Wire, Celtic Frost, and others—then painting it with the rusty, metallic tones of industrial England—Godflesh distinguished themselves from the emerging grindcore scene. They created something that all these years later they can still return to, unquestioned as the rightful keepers of the throne.