Godhead Machinery say their main artistic purpose is ‘to analyze the ongoing greed and corruption that swallows all that can be eaten in this world.’ On their new EP, the Swedish blackened-death metal quintet aim their opprobrium at organised religion. In a perverse world of hypocrisy, extreme inequality and abuse of power, the teachings of the devil may be the last ideology with integrity and a vision of the future for the world’s misanthropes (and atheists). It’s a taster of what’s to come on the band’s third full-length album later this year, and it’s an experience that will drown out every last piece of optimism in your body.
The first minute of ‘Magna Mortalitas’ will make you sit back with arms crossed and your chin pointed upwards like a person straining to hear a loudspeaker announcement on the railway platform. Sparse guitar notes and whispered vocals exude a total abandonment of aggression and hope until the guitarists step on the distortion pedal at the one-minute mark. Then vocalist, Niklas Ekwall, gears up into a mid-range scream and the drums enter the mix. After two minutes, you can guess that the guitars will belch out a collection of unorthodox chords and eerie shapes that imitate the sizzle of a frying pan when you toss a measure of red wine into the cooking oil. Like the dissonant death-doom of Iceland’s Mannveira, the tension bubbles along like a persistent ache that will only end when the body dies. Or so it seems until they explode at 03:30 seconds into a flurry of blast beats and death metal rhythms.
As natives of Sweden, it’s inevitable Godhead Machinery will look towards Dissection’s masterful 1990s output for inspiration, but the main influence is Akercocke on ‘Vulture Excarnation’. Ekwall’s impassioned vocal performance deserves high praise for the way he distorts his snarl into a fierce rasp that would make Dani Filth proud. The lyrics are not available, but one needs no vivid imagination to assume the teachings of Christianity are in his firing line. ‘Upon His Deceitful Star’ relies too much on the vitriol of voice rather than the power of the guitars, and this is where we encounter the one weakness of this EP. Neurosis, Gorguts and a certain Norwegian by the name of Ihsahn have a lot to answer for when it comes to the type of dissonant guitar chords used by the duo of Robert Kail Karlsson and Tommy Ericson. Does anybody play pentatonic scales these days other than the revivalist speed metal and blackened thrash bands? Maybe it’s a sudden exposure to the harsh and unmelodious sonics on the last few albums that fell into this reviewer’s lap, but it feels like the shift towards Stravinsky’s sinister avant-garde ear is the new norm in extreme metal. Let’s be clear: the guitar work is fascinating and unpredictable on Masquerade Among Gods. But no guitar tutor would teach you how to fret these passages. And where are the pulsating palm-muted riffs that every metal record needs to get the adrenaline going?
The closing title-track offers a glimpse of metallic chaos with an awesome assault of fast alt-picking rhythms but soon settles into a collection of strange arpeggios when thick power chords are on the horizon. In some ways, this shows the success of Godhead Machinery’s ability to second guess your listening instincts, and it’s here you start to forgive them for their trespasses against conventional metal. It need not be about chunky grooves or rapid thrash riffs when the aim is to create dark and brooding art. Mood is just as powerful as bludgeoning guitars, and the Swedes thrive on making you anxious.
A whole album of this nerve-shredding misery might be more of a challenge, but the four songs on this EP continue to intrigue after the fourth listen. You know something important is happening, but you can’t quite define it. Keep telling yourself you can conquer the impenetrability of Godhead Machinery. The breakthrough might appear.
Release Date: 02/07/2021
Record Label: Black Lion Records
Standout tracks: Magna Mortalitas, Vulture Excarnation
Suggested Further Listening: Mannveira – Vitahringur (2021), Akercocke – Rape of the Bastard Nazarene (1999), Antre – Dark Spectrum (2021)