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In the end of 1989, Godflesh’s debut “Streetcleaner” stroke the metal scene, generating several conflicting opinions between the metal crowd. Some people were dissatisfied with the music being “not fast enough” and with the use of a drum-machine instead of a real drummer, but there were many other people which felt the sickness and the nihilistic force of Broadrick’s new band. By 1990, even famous death metal bands like Obituary began to wear Godflesh t-shirts and the band’s name was often (wrongly) attributed to the grindcore/death metal scene. In that period, Godflesh were doing a tour with Napalm Death (yeah, Broadrick’s ex-band!) to promote their masterpiece, but they weren’t intended to live just on the success of this first album. Broadrick wanted to continue the games in different directions, and his creativity brought him to write and release a lot of material in 1991, for Earache’s joy.
“Slavestate” is the product of that time. It shows Godflesh still maintaining their adherence to the style of “Streetcleaner”, but also expanding it and introducing more experimental influences, going even into techno territories (generating meaningless scorn between most metal fans). Also the production has improved, and the sound became clearer and more audible, with a louder, more crushing and rougher guitar tone, almost in the vein of Type O Negative (their debut was coming out right in that year, coincidentally). Now, I have something to specify about “Slavestate”: it’s not a proper full-length. It originally came out as an EP which contained just the first four tracks, and then it was blended by Earache with other two singles of the same period (“Slavestate Remixes” and “Slateman / Wound ’91”) in a reissue released few months later. So, I feel forced to split this review into three parts, talking about each release in a logical way and distinguishing better the differences between each other.
The original “Slavestate” material (tracks 1-4) shows clearly the new direction that Broadrick took. The title-track and “Someone Somewhere Scorned” have massive electronic influences and groovy, danceable rhythms, but these components are amazingly blended with the already well-known Godflesh peculiarities: in the title-track, along with the techno beats, some violent guitar chords will punch you in the face with a fuzzy, crunchy and cacophonic sound, while Justin screams the fears and the disappointments of a christian invoking the name of his inexistent god. And even “Somewhere Someone Scorned”, despite being one of the catchiest tracks ever written by Godflesh, won’t renounce to offer you some interesting and disturbing dissonant riffs. On the other hand, “Perfect Skin”, still paying much attention to guitar dissonances, is more focused on heavier and more pounding industrial percussions, and there isn’t any techno influence to find.
Now, let’s talk about the remixes (tracks 5-7). Obviously, this is the most electronic-influenced part of the album. Both remixes of “Slavestate” fucking kick ass and they would fit greatly in an obscure night club, between bitches and ecstasy pills. What I like the most about these remixes is the catchy electronic line that repeats continuously, which gives a “hypnotic” feel to the songs. In particular, the “Total State Mix” does an awesome job mixing the massive electronic influences with the heaviness of the guitars, which is even increased on this track, resulting more asphyxiating and noisier than ever. On the opposite, “Perfect Skin Dub” features a different approach, removing most of the guitar feedbacks of the original version and substituting them with some plain monochord chugs, which sound surprisingly better than usual.
But the best material you can find on here comes probably from the “Slateman / Wound ’91” single. It’s a more classic Godflesh sound, pretty much in the vein of what will come in the following years with “Pure” and “Selfless”. “Slateman” is a very slow and sad song, where you can notice a style that Broadrick will use a lot in the future: “depressed” clean vocals. This song reminds me of the “Cold World” single, which was coming out in the same period. The re-recorded version of “Wound” (a song from the unreleased “Tiny Tears” EP) is even better than the original, and it’s another example of Broadrick’s genius about drum-machine rhythms and backbeats. Both these two songs are surrounded by an extremely melancholic and decadent feeling, empowered by the increase of guitar dissonances (in particular, “Wound ’91” features some very crepuscular melodies).
If you are a fan of industrial/electronic experimentations blended with metal, this is an essential release. It represents Godflesh in the aftermath of their explosion on the metal scene, trying to go even forward in order to achieve even higher results. Sadly, most people tend to consider this band just for “Streetcleaner”, and don’t pay attention to other awesome albums like this one.
From the opening Stakker Humanoid techno sample through the layered grating guitar noises, monochromatic drum patterns, and ever cruddy bass tones, Godflesh re-emerged in '91 ready to turn the metal world on its ear again. Much like they did with Streetcleaner two years earlier, Godflesh used Slavestate to once more vigorously challenge the limitations of extreme metal. Any reasonable expectation that Godflesh would flesh out a repeat performance of their impassionedly ugly debut was out-the-window. Sampling from acid-house kings like Stakker Humanoid (the future FSOL) or remixing tracks down to their barest dub-infused bones unsettled the normative, pushing past the aggro-industrial template and laying bare that Godflesh would repeatedly experiment and innovate at all costs, sucking in as much outside influence as they themselves unleashed. A restlessly reciprocal band in an often staid and conventional genre, Godflesh used this quick-and-dirty EP as a guide for the remainder of their career and beyond.
"Slavestate" is an all-time great Godflesh song and a perfect jump-on point for those who found Streetcleaner too alien for admission. The warped 4/4 dance floor techno quickly sinks beneath a harsh undertow of sharp guitar riffs and thumping bass but an anchor of accessibility is there to hang onto if you keep your ears open enough: there's an engaging minimalist song structure beneath the hypnotically heavy repetitions of word and tone. "Perfect Skin" is a mournful dirge, brooding and melancholy. The overt percussiveness keeps a martial feel to an otherwise submersive sounding lament accentuated by Broadrick's haunted vocals -- his first of many shifts away from the atonal yelling of his earlier work. "Somewhere Someone Scorned" is industrial metal perfection -- a sinister blend of synth melody percolating beneath spare drum machine patterns and dark guitar melodies. Broadrick and Green hit lock-step perfection on this one, matching the patterns and syncopation perfectly, bridging the gulf of utter heaviness, industrial cruelty, and a faint hint of dance floor sensation. "Meltdown" hits the Streetcleaner pressure-release valve just in time. Anyone perplexed by what this EP has proposed so far will take deep solace in this suffocatingly heavy and straightforward Godflesh banger, the programmed double-bass and twisted knots of riffage hitting the right note of anger, hatred, and despair that is Godflesh's primary triangulation.
From here the EP gets murky with some odd remixes, the quality of which will depend entirely on your disposition towards electronic musics far removed from metal. The "Radio Slave" remix of the title track is an aggressively paranoid take on Stakker-style acid-house, a bad trip awaiting anyone foolish enough to drop the needle on it at a rave. The "Total State" remix takes that same basic premise in a slightly more percussive and tribal direction. I dig both these remixes but I can see how they would fail to add value to those less interested in hybridized stabs at early 90's electronica. Ditto the dub of "Perfect Skin," the only track I don't admire. At twelve-minutes plus, it drags on a skeletal framework of dark industrial dub that gets boring quick.
Fortunately though, a best-for-last approach was taken here as both "Slateman" and "Wound '91" rival the title track for greatest Godflesh song honors. "Slateman" is a beast. The opening riff has an almost otherworldly vibe, an atmospheric layering of Broadrick's vocals heighten the effect, while Green's bass vents heavy industrial machine press tones during the crushing bridge, one of the heaviest sections of any Godflesh song ever. "Wound '91" re-interprets the Streetcleaner classic, updating it with a cleaner sound and a slightly slower and more percussive rhythmic sound. Preferring the original, I still enjoy the difference presented. And this EP is all about difference, making clear that no two Godflesh recordings would ever sound entirely the same. It is a rare band that can continually grow and contort and extend without completely alienating itself and the Slavestate EP was the first hint that Godflesh would be capable of doing exactly that.
I'm surprised that some of the early Godflesh albums haven't attracted many reviews here. Back in the early 1990's, recordings like "Street Cleaner", "Slavestate" and "Pure" were pretty much essential listening for me though they weren't easy to find at the time. There was something about this UK band's brand of pounding, crushing industrial metal music that marked Justin Broadrick & Co as "Special", a class above Ministry and Nine Inch Nails in those days. Of course, when your influences include Black Sabbath, early 1980's Swans, SPK, Throbbing Gristle and Whitehouse, your music probably can't help but be fearsome, noisy and aggressive with every guitar riff seemingly backed by a 10,000-tonne slab of concrete but what also set Godflesh apart from the others was the band's bleak and misanthopic vision hinting at futuristic technocrat police states or some other institutions like organised religion enforcing conformity and thought control. At the same time there was compassion for the downtrodden outsider and loner rebels and a spiritual yearning of sorts. Many of these elements are present in one form or another on "Slavestate".
The title track is an incredibly powerful opener with sweeping guitar riffs and at least two sets of machine pile-driving beats, one of them going bang-bang-bang down the scale. Although this is a short track, two remixes "Slavestate (Radio Slave)" and "Slavestate Total State Mix" that appear halfway through the album, clock at over 13 minutes together (the second track is over 8 minutes) and more or less repeat the wiggly synth / bass rhythms and pounding beats over and over with additional high-pithced keyboard effects and melodies and multi-tracked voices. As these remixes are highly repetitive and strongly rhythmic, they probably would have been better off separated and spread through the album with the "...Total State ..." track placed at the end, this would reinforce the album's unity and the idea of an all-embracing political state or religion that brainwashes people's minds to think in a certain way and feel certain emotions including hate and anger.
Other tracks have very good and distinctive if headache-inducing rhythms: "Someone Somewhere Scorned" has a strong bubble bass line that is echoed in the robotic vocal chorus and "Meltdown" has strong beats that help to anchor the wavering abrasive chainsaw guitar noise. "Perfect Skin" in particular has a hard pounding, punishing rhythm that has a ritualistic feel and the later all-instrumental dub remix track exaggerates this aspect to the utmost with echoing crashing percussion in the background. The remix is exhausting and epic and spaces within it make it cavernous and monumental.
The two remaining tracks "Slateman" and "Wound '91" are fine in their own way with pummelling beats and rhythms but compared with the earlier tracks they're not exceptional and by this time the listener can be feeling really knackered and knocked about by the music. This reinforces my feeling that one of those "Slavestate ..." remix tracks should be placed here either as the last track or the second last track.
Compared with some of their other albums, this recording is very much dominated by long passages of highly rhythmic and repetitve all-instrumental music, all of it very hard-hitting and with very little let-up in the aggression and hostility. Most tracks have no light touches apart from maybe "Wound '91" which admits a bit of delicacy in the guitar tones and whose conclusion is lighter than what might have been expected. The general style of music on "Slavestate" is brutal, heavy and machine-like, more industrial than metal - the band seems deliberately to avoid playing anything resembling a melody and the sparse vocals are usually either shouted angrily or spoken in an indifferent tone. Influences from techno and dub music serve to emphasise the never-ending inhuman nature of the music and to introduce some rhythmic variety.
The paradox with an album like this is that it can be a very exhausting experience for some people but for others it's a good clean-out for the mind so they can also feel quite relaxed and peaceful with a clear head!
...and I wouldn't be complaining.
I'm surprised there hasn't been a review of this one yet.
It may not be the groundbreaking attack of mechanized misanthropy that was 'Streetcleaner', but this was still a highly original piece for the time....just hearing that reverb-soaked drum machine, those ghostly disembodied lyrics, and the brutal lack of midrange on some of the tracks takes me back to the halcyon days of my youth in Buffalo, New York. It should be noted that this stuff consumed me so much at the time, I almost completely neglected the death metal rumblings (Cannibal Corpse etc.) happening in my own backyard.
From the opening two tracks alone, 'Slavestate' stands head and shoulders above at least 90% of what was to follow in the 'industrial metal' genre. Lyrics and instrumentation are stripped to their bare foundations and then soaked in atmospheric effects, saturating your listening space with something like a parody of religious grandeur, mixed with post-industrial decay. The lunging, downtuned bass and Justin Broadrick's droning guitar are as simple and comprehensible as prime Black Sabbath, but with a distinctly modern feel that STILL isn't completely outdated. The other main influence besides Sabbath (especially on the haunting, gorgeous 'Perfect Skin') is New York dronelords Swans, who I strongly recommend hearing if one is into Godflesh, Neurosis, or even Sunn 0))).
A lot has been made about the 'techno' influence on this album, although compared with synth-heavy bands like Nine Inch Nails it's not so prevalent at all. There is a loop of queasy, grainy synth which opens the album, and yes those are programmed drums, but other than that this record definitely exists in a grey area between dance music and metal. But while the majority of bands would try to lure audiences of both genres to their shows, 'Slavestate' era Godflesh seems intent on denying both. And , ironically, therein lies their key to their success.
As for individual songs on this album- the feel is overall one of oppression and claustrophobia, but there are subtle gradients within that overall feeling that Godflesh really manage to pull out. The closing 'Wound '91', for example, is almost uplifting, with its interplay between needling guitar and grooving sludge-bass. 'Someone Somewhere Scorned' is more atonal than the other pieces and gives an impression of confusion despite its instrumental precision. 'Slavestate' and 'Perfect Skin', of course, are worth their weight in gold- brutal and austere, it's not surprising that this formula was debased by dozens of other much dumber bands.
So, there you go. Slavestate- hear it again for the first time!