Forging a deep new sound, this Bristol outfit’s cohesive vehemence and vigour has produced something lithe, fleet-footed and constantly mutating
In 1991, Godflesh released Slavestate, a single which added a sample of Humanoid’s cyborg techno hit Stakker Humanoid to their austere churncore. Justin Broadrick later noted, “We got some shit from people, but we also accessed a whole new audience”. It seems almost inconceivable now that there was a time when fans of leftfield rock were still suspicious of any electronics more complex than a thudding drum machine, and when anyone wishing to broaden the palette would be met with cries of “sell out!” Although conversely, in the wake of Madchester, so many drab indie chancers were grabbing desperately at 808s that flicking swiftly through Melody Maker could leave you with “there’s always been a dance element in our music” inkily imprinted onto every finger.
On their debut album, Bristol’s Scalping are forging a deep new sound which is a direct development of Broadrick’s sonic hybrid, but whereas 30 years ago metal and techno were welded brutally together to construct a clunky battle-tank of a sound, now the splicing happens at DNA level, creating something lithe, fleet-footed and constantly mutating. If Godflesh was Mechagodzilla, stomping inexorably over anything in its path, Scalping are the T-1000 Terminator, melting and reforming before your eyes, before delivering an equally deadly blow.
Blood Club exemplifies this approach, consisting of a blasted heath of wintery sound like something from the Isolationism compilation – a cherished moment of madness in which Virgin Records decided that their cosy Ambient compilation series had been selling so well, they’d follow it up with two and a half hours of aural bleakness compiled by Kevin Martin – across which an insistent ostinato flits intermittently, as if Aphex Twin’s Didgeridoo were rushing through a wasteland on a speeding train.
Caller Unknown similarly has an acidly squelchy line which fights for breath on a roiling sea of guitar scuff, and there’s a wonderful struggle on this album between pure, clear electronic sounds, which one can imagine being made on huge banks of shiny sequenced devices flickering with 100 red LEDs, and dirty, polluted industrial/metal sounds, all amp-squeal and gritty hum – although actually this album was produced under lockdown without the members ever inhabiting the same room.
There is variety on display here, though, despite the intensity. Silhouettes is a claustrophobic underpass chase scene; Cloak & Dagger is a brighter, more insistent groove that sounds like the theme tune to the Hades remake of The Krypton Factor; and Flashforward captures some reverse reverbed vocals that might recall parts of the first Future Sound Of London album. Only Desire doesn’t quite convince, bringing in some mournful post-rock guitar which it never quite knows what to do with.
But a pair of vocal tracks provide the focal points in Void’s sinister simmer. Remain In Stasis, featuring Grove, is a sprightly piece of apocalyptic preaching that bears a small resemblance to the foursquare surveillance funk of Tackhead (only far heavier), but even better is Tether, featuring Oakland rapper DAEMON, a slow, steady chant calling to mind a terrible antimatter Faithless (and if you can’t get no sleep, it won’t be because of club euphoria, but because you’re worried DAEMON is lurking under your bed).
If there is a small criticism of Void, it’s that certain parts sound interchangeable, and one crunchy bass riff or eerie knives-sharpened-in-a-deep-sewer guitar sound could be sliced from one track and dropped into another without anyone really noticing, but equally, this proves how cohesive the album is. Scalping have produced 35 minutes of vehemence and vigour that has enough depth to repay repeat listens. If Slavestate was an industrial-dance crossover, this is more like a metal-techno crucifixion.