On loving the inhuman: Godflesh and Szilárd Borbély

Mid-day thunderstorms. I find myself watching a really well-filmed concert by the industrial metal legends Godflesh, from a just-concluded festival in France. I was never a massive fan, but I always appreciated what they did for extreme metal by showing that there was an audience for aestheticized sonic bleakness untied to traditional song structures or even guitar riffs—that quite a few metalheads, in other words, would be open to experimental music as long as it’s crushingly heavy.

But I’d never watched a live show. I must be honest: what keeps me watching isn’t just the music, and all the great shots of colorful Euro metalheads, but the fact that I feel represented: Godflesh are two white guys right around my age (bassist GC Green two years older, guitarist/vocalist/programmer Justin Broadrick three years younger), at the top of their game, having compromised on exactly nothing to get where they are today.

The layered vocals were always my favourite part of their music so it’s fascinating to see Broadrick delivering them in what looks less like self-expression than self-exorcism. Which feels true to the ethos of industrial music: they’re servants to the music rather than its masters. That’s the vibe. Broadrick appears to have little interest in being a rock star — unlike, say, Al Jourgensen of Ministry or Jaz Coleman of Killing Joke, neither of whom is known for being self-deprecating.

Industrial music is such a fascinating response to the inhuman. The substitution of a metronome for any bodily rhythm whatsoever is itself a powerful statement within the cultural context of rock music (though it’s also what kept me from becoming a devotee). Treating mechanical noise as music obviously goes back to George Antheil, 100 years ago. But after the rise of fascism and social realism, loving the machine became more of an ironic stance, at least on the left.

Projected video is apparently central to Godflesh shows, since there’s no real front person for the band. It’s interesting to watch the audience members zoning out, each in their own fashion, to this harsh but hypnotic wall of sound. It ends as unpretentiously as it began—Broadrick bows and says thank you and he and Green start putting away their instruments.

And now the storms appear to be over as well.

***

A humid, buggy walk. Still better than no walk. A little bit of bloodletting does a body good.

***

Reading In a Bucolic Land by Szilárd Borbély, translated by Ottilie Mulzet, a book-length sequence of narrative poems about his impoverished childhood in rural eastern Hungary. I’ve always regarded the pastoral tradition as deeply suspect, so it was interesting to see Borbély referring to his village as Arcadia and its peasant inhabitants under communism as gods—another example I suppose of that love of irony that distinguishes my generation (Borbély was just three years older than me. Offed himself in 2014).

Here’s a passage where the family cow, Manci, strays into a decommissioned church where the Renaissance statuary is being restored:

This is the first I’ve read Borbély. For overall bleakness, I think he has Godflesh beaten.

***

Just remembered that my walk did include a find of some fine mushroom flesh:

So perhaps it’s fitting that I made a small blood sacrifice in return.

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