LIVE REVIEW: Neurosis + Godflesh, HMV Forum, London

There really is no good reason for anyone to be bummed out about missing out on an ATP weekender when the days following the main event habitually throw up bills as awesome as this. A weekend spent emptying your bank account, taking drugs unknown to the over-30s and known only by weird acronyms, enjoying the Hi-De-Hi!-gone-hipster vibe of an off-season holiday resort in Wales where the temperature is barely above zero? Uh, thanks but no thanks. This is a reward for having the common sense to stay at home, not compensation ‘cos you couldn’t raise the funds or find the friends to fill a chalet.
Home comforts aside, watching Neurosis and Godflesh live in concert is one of the more intense ways to spend a Sunday night. Both bands received a similar musical education, albeit on opposite sides of the Atlantic. Their sounds are equally powerful but couldn’t be more contrasting. Neurosis pushed the slo-mo button on hardcore-punk and metal and stretched their sound out into dense, apocalyptic epics, a process that has taken years: Godflesh took the iconoclastic route to metal, grafting discordant riffs onto an industrial chassis of pounding beats that owe more to vintage Public Enemy than anything “metal”.

It’s funny that GODFLESH were once considered “futuristic” because their rhythm came from a drum machine. Their whole reason for sounding like they do was not to sound all Buck Rogers or like the Jetsons’ favorite metal band (surely the aspiration behind all that cyber-metal guff that cited Godflesh as an influence), it was and still is all about articulating the grim reality of growing up in an environment where factories choked the sky, about the paranoid claustrophobia of urban living and the threat of indiscriminate violence, the boredom and alienation, all of which are inherent to city living. Justin Broadrick now lives in rural Wales but has admitted that the feelings that precipitated Godflesh have never left him.

Since their 2010 comeback, Godflesh have never sounded better than they do tonight. They cut four songs from their set and started later so that latecomers didn’t miss out, but a shorter set suits them. Of course, it wouldn’t be Godflesh without a moment spent sweating the technical stuff. They’ve got to be the only band whose most unreliable member is a machine. Broadrick and G.C. Green take the stage and the intro tape is cut—y’know, this is the time for action—there’s still a quick, awkward tune-up, and a computer that has to be coaxed out of screensaver mode; it’s kinda sweet, and it’s the only light moment or sign of human frailty in a set of spectacular, brutal economy, that’s brought jolting into life with the staccato beat, skronk and howl of “Love is a Dog From Hell”.

Godflesh were louder the last time they played here, with Goatsnake and D.R.I. in support, but tonight there’s a purity to the mix that renders the primal groove of the anthemic “Like Rats” and the morose “Christbait Rising” undiluted in power and impact. “Streetcleaner” follows, with Green and Broadrick silhouetted against a visual background of religious iconography and abstract urban landscapes, upon which we can concentrate our eyes while the inner ear is pummelled. The chaotic pulse of “Crush My Soul” concludes a set of such intensity that no one could complain about its brevity.

NEUROSIS arrive in London in much the same shape as the last time they were here. Only on that occasion there was a novelty about Josh Graham having the day off with the rest of the band playing under the total exposure of the summer sun. There is no such compensation for Josh Graham’s absence tonight. Some people downplayed the departure of their visual artist, but anyone who knows anything appreciates that the visuals are a huge part of the Neurosis live experience. Even back in 1997, when they were playing European modest club dates on the back of Through Silver in Blood and supporting Entombed, the visuals left a powerful footprint in the memory—even complementing “Locust Star” with ogreish archived footage of R. Budd Dwyer’s public suicide seem artistically sure-footed.

Neurosis still have that otherworldly aura about them that suggests they can call upon the supernatural to assist them, but there is no escaping that tonight they are five dudes under dark blue stage lights, the sense that their live ceremony is under construction. They throw themselves into “Distill (Watching the Swarm)”, Jason Roeder’s drums tumbling through a wash of guitar and Noah Landis’ homebrew synth samples, see-sawing back and forth between reflection and explosion. They largely forego their classic canon and draw heavily instead from Honor Found in Decay, trusting tracks such as “My Heart for Deliverance” and “Bleeding the Pigs” have the requisite power and grandeur. There’s nothing from Through Silver in Blood, no “Stones from the Sky”, but we do get “Given to the Rising”, “Left to Wander” and “Times of Grace”, the sight of a band raging in the shadows. By the time they sign off with the protracted squeal of feedback we’re left with the impression that we’ve caught Neurosis in the middle of an evolutionary stride.

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