Sound — 8
After falling in and out of numerous bands as a young musician, including a brief stint with grindcore forefathers Napalm Death, Justin Broadrick would create his flagship band, Godflesh, with bassist G.C. Green and a simple drum machine. Despite such a humble ensemble, Godflesh would become pioneers of the industrial metal genre, with their early albums, "Streetcleaner" and "Pure," being landmark compositions for the genre, and helping enkindle a new branch of metal. However, even with the many bands that Godflesh have influenced in the past few decades, it's also not shocking at all that Broadrick hates the growing modernity of metal - and one can only assume how conflicted he feels that it was his music that's inspired some of the nu-metal bands he utterly despises. Even when he attempted to evolve with the metal in the notorious Godflesh album, "Us and Them," he ended up reviling that decision, and all but completely disowns that moment in the band's discography.
Whether or not that moment truly hamstringed Godflesh's lifespan, Broadrick couldn't help but feel that the band's end was nigh, and after releasing the following album, "Hymns," as a form of musical repentance, Godflesh would end up going defunct soon after. Broadrick stayed busy with a plethora of other music projects - most notably his experimental rock project, Jesu - but as the corpse of Godflesh laid on the open field of metal, it would be buried over the years by more and more post-modern metal bands laying their groundwork, running on the ethos that rubs Broadrick the wrong way - the focus on squeaky-clean production and friendly anthemic accessibility that wholly goes against the grain of what Godflesh stood for.
Though the reformation of Godflesh wasn't exclusively for making another appeal to Broadrick's ideal of metal, that is exactly what Godflesh's seventh album, "A World Lit Only by Fire" does. As indicated by the neo-luddite album title, Godflesh's experiment with metal this time is to strip it down to a primitive, animalistic level and cast aside the thirteen years of evolution and innovation in metal that took place while Godflesh was away. With the opening track "New Dark Ages" beginning with an overbearing siren-like noise, the downtuned chugs throb like a beastly heartbeat, signifying Godflesh's resurrection, then going into the full riff with a thickness in sound that swallows all metaphorical light like a solar eclipse, beckoning the near-hour of darkness that the album conjures and thrives in.
As the tracks - built on Godflesh's minimalist formula of three-to-four riffs per song - plod along and snarl like the menacing respiration of a behemoth that's awoken from slumber, Broadrick wields an 8-string guitar for this album, making his riffs even denser and darker than all other Godflesh material. The excessive downtuning makes the marching chug riffs in "Deadend," "Curse Us All" and "Imperator" more domineering, and the sludge sections in "Deadend," "Carrion," "Towers of Emptiness" and "Forgive Our Fathers" more filthy and overwhelming. As well as throwing in shrieking pinch harmonics to juxtapose the numerous growling chug riffs, Godflesh manifest their moments of melody in the doomy "Life Giver Life Taker," "Obeyed," and "Towers of Emptiness," and of course, incorporate some post-metal elements at the tail-end of the album - with "Towers of Emptiness" ending in a drawn-out ambient section, and the closing "Forgive Our Fathers" contrasting long wails of guitar resonance, ominous atmospheric noise from synths, and Broadrick's soft clean vocals with giant blasts of discordant noise.
Lyrics — 8
In contrast to "Hymns," where Broadrick's vocals were substantially more personal, "A World Lit Only by Fire" takes the spectacle off of Broadrick's personal feelings and focuses on the big picture - how f--ked the world is today. Amongst the prophetic depictions of world superpowers crumbling like the Roman Empire in "Imperator" and how the dependency on technology has reduced people's cognizance in "Obeyed," Broadrick caustically barks "we all suffer… accept the fate" on "New Dark Ages" like a fundamentalist pastor on the street manically shouting that the Apocalypse will be soon. Broadrick further aims his sneering hatred at the elite, comparing them to vultures in "Carrion," and explaining, albeit simply, how the elite gain and hold their high status in "Curse Us All" ("without a soul/you can rule the world/you can curse us all/how could you fall?"). Even in the cases of "Life Giver Life Taker" and "Forgive Our Fathers," where the clean and faint vocals can't help but be drowned by the overwhelming instrumentation, stylistically complement the lyrical theme by symbolizing the depressing reality of things: in a world so unrelenting, you will be drowned by it unless you match its brutality.
Overall Impression — 8
To say that this is a triumphant return for Godflesh would insinuate that "A World Lit Only by Fire" was meant to make you feel good. It's more appropriate to call "A World Lit Only by Fire" the judgment day Godflesh are wreaking upon the metal world - as opposed to new-school metal bands with bigger sonic repertoires, Godflesh succeed in making a strong album with only a handful of tricks and no ostentatious bells and whistles. And with that, the ethos of this album poses a question: is metal meant to be a more aggressive version of meticulous and calculated songwriting, or is it meant to be an unrelenting sequence of noise? Godflesh answer that question with the latter. As unappealing as that reads, Godflesh may be proving their point exactly that this is all bona fide metal needs to be: hideously visceral sound that rattles your core and leaves you feeling uneasy. And "A World Lit Only by Fire" has that in spades.