The Face Of God
Religion’s been a point of discussion in modern leftist politics at least since Marx’s old “opiate of the masses” line, if not all the way back to Diderot’s “Men will never be free until the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest”. Things have perhaps become more muddled in recent years, with the libertarian tinges of fedora-clad New Atheism and the staunchly red likes of Terry Eagleton arguing for the socially reparative and in fact possibly radical potential of religion amidst late capitalist hegemony. The question, insofar as politics are concerned, is perhaps less one of metaphysical reality that it is the realpolitik of social control. Belgium’s martial industrial unit Militia split the difference in The Face Of God, casting religion as another means through which the freedom of the working classes is deferred, and deception is used to protect brokers of power.
I first became aware of the long-standing ensemble with the release of 2011’s Power! Propaganda! Production!, which served almost as a clearing house for their decidedly anarchist ethos, all swaddled in a slightly kitschy revisiting of Soviet aesthetics. The Face Of God starts out by directly recalling that album’s opening, in the form of a statement of political demands: the abolishing of capitalism in the latter, and the installment of a wholly atheistic society in the former. An overreach? Perhaps, but at least you won’t find Militia getting flummoxed by the practicalities of food distribution a la The Symbionese Liberation Army. The presentation of the oppressive qualities of religion in the album has an odd timeless quality, from the quaint Dutch psalm book that comes with the album, to the medieval and Renaissance imagery which marks its liner notes, to the decidedly King James language used in the lyrics.
Musically The Face Of God mirrors this bird’s-eye perspective on the broader history of western religion. While it’s still firmly located within the martial and percussive industrial sounds, much of the record, especially its first half, manages to connote a pre-industrial, and in fact pre-modern mood. The slowly rotating drum cycles of “Thank You Oh Lord” suggest medieval mills or the creak of wagons more than industrial factories, and the sampled church bells which drone throughout do nothing to dispel the murky feel of long dead saints. It’s not until close to the midway point of the record, where the dusty clatter and insistent core beat of “Sermon”, augmented with slight, sorrowful pads, that things seem to sound more like the byproducts of our own age. Interestingly, at the point where the music becomes more tense and contemporary, reactionary counter-Christian themes and ideologies fall under the lens (and don’t come out any stronger than their orthodox counterparts), almost as if a dialectic of religious positions follows in the footsteps of the development of industry.
I won’t lie: if anarchist percussive industrial dedicated to the excoriation of religion doesn’t sound like your cup of tea, The Face Of God is going to be a tough sell. Militia don’t make concession or compromise easily, and certainly won’t for the sake of accessibility. Unlike the excesses and indulgences they target, there’s no attempt made to sugarcoat their industrial liturgy.
The Face Of God is available directly from Militia in a deluxe boxset.