Justin Broadrick hasn't been this focused in years. Jesu was a worthy follow up project after the split of Godflesh in 2002, but Broadrick often used the Jesu appellation for some of his more experimental musings as well. With Godflesh there are were typically a few experimental "mood" pieces buried deep on every album, but for the most part you knew you were getting a punishing new catalog of catchy chords strummed out over a mechanistic rhythm section, the two combining a mantra-like celebration of the Almighty Riff.
As I stated earlier this summer in my review of Decline of Fall, we often get a more concentrated dose of instantly classic riffs on the Godflesh EP's; A World Lit Only By Fire stretches that focus out to album length, all but the last track dependent solely on monolithic, juggernaut riffs designed to snap necks. Stylistically the band find themselves straddling the line between the more accessible parts of Streetcleaner and the less overtly morose parts of Selfless, although with fewer excursions into the kind of dense, gloomy experiments that often made up the later moments of early albums. "Forgive Our Fathers" is the only track that has even the faintest whiff of the shoegaze/dream pop influences that eventually evolved into Jesu, and it's the very last track on the album.
Although the sound of the album will be all too familiar for fans of the old Earache material, the clarity of production is more in-your-face than anything the band have done previously. The guitar tone, in particular, is consistently loud with a heavy bottom end crunch. Broadrick's vocals are front-and-center as well, with none of the distant, cavernous obscurantism of those earlier recordings. In fact, the enriched clarity and focus on riff-based material is the band's sole nod to Songs of Love and Hate, the much-maligned "hip hop" album that lost Godflesh a lot of goodwill back in the mid-90's. Make no mistake, though, there's absolutely no dabbling with dance club beats here, the drum machine booted all the way back to Streetcleaner settings. The sheer lack of extraneous electronics is another noticeable change: with the exception of the intro to "Shut Me Down" there is little evidence of samples or overt keyboard work on the album.
Of course, A World Lit Only By Fire will eventually go down as an elite Godflesh album not for the era(s) it recreates, but for the strength of material. Much like the Decline and Fall EP, this album has an embarrassment of riches. "Shut Me Down", "New Dark Ages" and "Imperator" cover the wrecking ball riff category in instantly legendary fashion; "Life Giver Life Taker" gives us a rare taste of the old post-punk magic, while "Obeyed" and "Towers of Emptiness" break up the single-riff monotony with more expansive song structures.
Throughout even the most experimental tracks, though, A World Lit Only By Fire is dominated by assertive, anthemic riffs. It doesn't quite scream "art" in the same way that we've come to expect from both Godflesh and Jesu, but that's exactly what makes it the benchmark work with which to introduce neophytes into the Justin Broadrick world… it's a hell of a ride.