It wasn’t until recently that Godflesh mainman Justin Broadrick went public with his autism and related PTSD diagnosis, though many of us fellow faces in the crowd had an inkling that the guitarist/vocalist/programmer had been occupying a spot somewhere on the spectrum for a long while. Takes one to know one, as they say on the playground. The bouts with anxiety at the prospect of playing live, the comparative reserve and shyness of his on-stage persona, his desire to work in the solitary confines of the studio instead of a ubiquitous splaying of his life on stage and in the public eye.
Working advantageously in Broadrick’s favour is his laser-sighted focus on whatever project is tickling his fancy (Godflesh, Jesu, Final, JK Flesh, Zonal, remixes, his Avalanche Recordings imprint, etc.) and working pointedly and fastidiously on the task at hand. The task at hand now, as it applies to Purge, is to pull from the aesthetic and concepts of 1992’s Pure and update them for a world that has advanced 30 years forward while using the creative process and musical tools at his and bassist G.C. Green’s disposal as a release/relief from all that ails internally and externally.
From our spot as a long-haul fan of the band, it’s funny to note that Purge is being paired with Pure. This, because upon first listen and before being confirmed by the man at the mic himself, a connection between the two albums was the thought that went through our softened noggin’. Where Pure managed some of the most adroit pairing of mechanics and melody in the likes of “I Wasn’t Born to Follow,” “Spite,” “Predominance” and “Baby Blue Eyes,” Purge follows along the same tack attaching a musical warmth to Armor All-polished robotics with a greasier rhythmic swing as Broadrick and Green further exploit the bouncing pulsations of ‘80s and ‘90s boom-bap hip-hop.
It’s this attention to groove and backbeat, as well as the ability of technology to play with rhythmic grids and effects, that gives album opener “Nero” the simultaneous ability to create an impressively danceable shimmy while possessing some of the most crushing guitar and cathartic vocal moments of Godflesh’s history. The same T-1000 cybernetic smoothness propels the harmonic and spacious abrasion of “Land Lord,” a stand out for its blackened twang, pinch harmonic call and response beacons and black hole string bends.
“Army of Non” is pure — pun intended, maybe… — unadulterated, uncut Godflesh. Streetcleaner-esque down-picking and down trodden string hammering on/pulling off are placed astride walls of high-pitched squeals punctuated by Broadrick’s hoarse vocal jabs. Adding licks of diversity and difference to the chest caving heaviness are the foley-seque samples and layers populating the background, adding aural thickness and understated nuance.
In opposition to the drill press driving of “Permission,” a composition that combines noisy street corner beats with the darkest of minor chords and a Gregorian vocal moan that surges like a heart being revived by defibrillator shocks, comes the laconically droopy “Lazarus Leper” and “You are the Judge, the Jury, and the Executioner” which utilizes a simplistic beat and a chord progression that’s somehow equally jarring as hypnotic. Following in that dreamy, dreary footstep is the clatter of “The Father” with an epic Seasons in the Abyss-as-transposed-by Kevin "The Bug” Martin feel that flirts with mainstream territory.
When it comes to legacy bands with histories that go back 30+ years, there’s always the fear that as principle members get older, distracted by life’s bullshit, interested in other styles of music, enjoy disparate forms of expression and become disillusioned with the industry — all of which Broadrick and Green have encountered since the early ‘80s — that later works will pale in comparison to the glory days. It’s safe to say that Godflesh as an entity has remained a sonic mainstay and arguably hasn’t issued a weak record yet. Purge definitely isn’t that album of old men simply hanging on to past glories without any forward thought or motion. In fact, the band’s ninth full-length is definitely the most robust since their return from hiatus in 2009/2010 and, to go out on a short limb, is their best since 2001’s Hymns.