Legend has it that the members of The God Machine, Robin Proper-Sheppard: guitar and vocals, Jimmy Fernandez: bass and Ron Austin: percussion, came to England in the early 90s with only £50 between them. What is certain is that in less than 2 years they had cemented a reputation as a formidable live act and unleashed their gargantuan debut album, Scenes From The Second Storey.
I bought Scenes largely on the strength of a review in the magazine Lime Lizard, a kind of UK version of Alternative Press. The review had trouble pinning down exactly what The God Machine sounded like. I seem to remember there being references to the more intense songs of Jane’s Addiction, Spacemen 3 and Pornography era The Cure, but at best these give just a hazy impression of the records true colors. With the kind of apocalyptic firepower The God Machine were frequently wielding, Godspeed You! Black Emperor might be a more accurate comparison although neither GYBE nor ‘post rock’ really existed at this point, that term still being one Bark Psychosis album away from entering general musical parlance. If I’m looking at their 1993 contemporaries perhaps an indie rock Neurosis is more fitting. Intriguingly the first track Dream Machine starts off sampling a line of dialogue from Bernardo Bertolucci’s film The Sheltering Sky, the very same line that Neurosis would use to equally powerful effect on their colossal Enemy Of The Sun record later that year.
The point is that the very difficulty the review was having in describing the album intrigued me. Also at 77 minutes long I figured I would at least get value for money on the music per minute ratio. It had a pretty cool cover too. So without hearing a note of music I marched to my local record store and laid down £12.99 (£24.70 by todays money or $31.39 to my American friends). As an impoverished art student this meant that I had given up a night out (with all that entailed) and half of my weeks food bill, all for a record……………….but I was rewarded with the sound of planets colliding!
Its pretty difficult for me to pick any single songs as the album swirls together into such a cohesive whole but anyway here goes.
The Blind Man: This one starts out pure mumble-core until the 1:51 mark when it suddenly channels an electricity substation. By 4:20 the song has become a tsunami. Play this LOUD!
It’s All Over: This is just plaintive and beautiful with a bass line that haunts my dreams.
Ah, fuck it! To really get the full breadth of what The God Machine were, you’ll need the whole album, which is here if you’re interested.
For a few all to brief months the world was theirs. The God Machine were poised on the brink of serious critical acclaim and broader recognition, however it was not to be. Whilst it is cliché to say that the speed of their ascendancy was matched only by the speed of their dissolution, it was not the usual rock clichés that called time on this band. Less than 18 months after the release of Scenes, Jimmy passed away from a previously undiagnosed brain tumor. Given that The God Machine was a power trio and the success of the music was so reliant on their unique chemistry, Robin and Austin opted to terminate the band.
Their second and final album, One Last Laugh In a Place of Dying, was written and recorded before Jimmy’s death though released posthumously with little publicity or fanfare. It’s a quieter album than it’s predecessor but no less powerful, and despite it’s unbearably prophetic title I recall Robin saying (in one of the few interviews he gave at the time), how the making of the album was a time of happiness for all three band members.
The God Machine only released 2 albums during their brief existence; both are masterpieces.