From pioneers of Industrial Metal to their new status as Breakbeat Metal innovators, Godflesh have always remained ahead of the pack. Guy Strachan tracked down one half of the elusive duo, Justin Broadrick, to confront him about their new album Us and Them.
In 1989, Godflesh unleashed their debut full-length album. Entitled Streetcleaner, it quickly achieved cult status to the point where it is still considered by many to be the band's finest hour. However, the first and most persistent comment that most reviewers and fans had of that album was, 'where's the bass?', due in no small part to the fact that on Godflesh's eponymous mini-album issued the previous year, the bass frequencies were nothing but a barrage of in your face distortion. The subsequent sound of Streetcleaner initially brought forth howls of criticism and the odd accusation of selling out, but in time the album has rightly gone down as a classic of the genre.
Now, ten years on, Godflesh are on the eve of unleashing their latest album, Us And Them. What comes around goes around is the saying, and this time the question on many Godflesh fan's lips is, 'where's the guitars??' as this time around it is the turn of the six-strings to have prominence taken away from them. Or so you might think.
"The strange thing is I did an interview with Guitar Magazine in the week," chortles Justin Broadrick down the 'phone one evening, "and the first thing they said to me was, like, 'what are you doing with your guitar?' and as I pointed out to them, almost all the sounds on this album come from my guitar. A lot of stuff that people perceive as being a sample is actually my guitar; what I've done is to mutate and distort it into regions that I've never been before to give it more atmosphere and depth and ultimately try to do something fresh, but the bass and the beats take prominence.
"The interesting thing is that before making Us And Them I had a real close listen to Streetcleaner, it's always fascinated me why people are so obsessed with that album, and I studied it as I just wanted to encapsulate that density again. In hindsight, Selfless was so consciously a guitar album that it failed. Songs Of Love And Hate was very balanced and this time I wanted to destroy that balance a bit. When people try to copy Godflesh, they rarely get the bass right, partly because we treat it so viciously; it's a really venomous sound."
A-ha. Picking up on the last line of Justin's answer, the man has been known to make the odd scathing comment about his imitators. In titling the album Us And Them, have Godflesh finally had enough of the barrage of pissweak copyists? Godflesh have always (to me at least) been number one in a field of one, and for proof all you need to do is note the number of times the band gets mentioned whenever a band with slow songs, a drum machine and distorted bass rears its head.
"Yeah, that's a fair reason" muses Justin. "There has always been an air of confrontation with Godflesh and we instinctively feel it in our music. People rarely see what Godflesh actually is and that mystique has a lot of attraction for us. It's also, as a title, indicative of human nature; what seems to drive people and give them energy is the feeling of being an enemy, I find it a fascinating subject. I've been perceived as being bitter about people taking our sound, I was when I was younger but over the years I've come to terms with the fact that if I hear a smidgen of Godflesh in someone else's songs, it's usually used intelligently although there are times when it's commercialized and technical and I think our sound is more organic and sloppy-sounding."
Yeah? I'd be tempted to argue that Godflesh's sound, whilst not commercial, is certainly technical. Using computers to program rhythms and beats surely isn't the best method to produce something that is overly sloppy-sounding. That's not to suggest that the majority of human drummers are sloppy, but even if a programmer wants to create a drum loop that is out of time or fucked up, by their very nature computers are going to generate a rhythm that is as precise and technical as possible within that framework. At the same time, utilising a digital recording process and using DAT for mastering (which doesn't exactly like to be pushed) for example doesn't exactly help matters either. On the other hand, some of Justin's other projects such as Ice, The Sidewinder and Techno Animal sound as though they rely on technology just as heavily as Godflesh, but the sound of those projects is frequently that bit looser. The new album to me sounds pretty regimented, a lot of the programming sounds pretty complex, militant even.
"It's militant, certainly. I'm always happy if it sounds that way but I always try to get away from that extremely clinical edge of militancy. Our sound is rougher round the edges and we intentionally use processors to warm the sound up a bit. The whole album was mastered using a really bizarre process; everything was played through a big old Sixties valve processor which took out a lot of the digital edge and gave more warmth to the sound. I'm not personally drawn to Techno Metal as the production seems to clinical. They add a simplistic Gabba beat but they keep the same qualities of a Metal production so they never grasp the concept of any form of dance culture. It's just tokenism.... I feel validated in some ways as all the projects I do are in the so-called dance market so it's not like I've jumped on any bandwagon. With Godflesh it's interesting working in those areas and then thinking, 'how can I apply this to our formula?' and try to retain the viciousness of drum 'n' bass but at the same time trying to lose the dancefloor element."
If there are any visions of an army of ravers larging it to Godflesh filling a dancefloor with a Fatboy Slim remix with all this talk of dance, don't worry. The album does hark back to the early days of the band, with Justin and I both agreeing that the sound and texture of Love Is A Dog From Hell features prominently throughout the course of the album. Mind you, more recent events are proving to be an influence as well. Anyone who caught their Love And Hate In Dub show in London last year will no doubt remember the volume and power that Godflesh attained that evening. With that show serving as a blueprint for their current live plans, Justin states that Ted Parsons will be joining them on stage this time around. But why play in that style, don't you miss holding your guitars on stage?
"We want to try and incorporate the flavour of those shows within the songs that we'll be doing. That excites me, because one boring thing about touring is playing the same songs every night and that is why we don't tour a lot. People think we're lazy dope-smoking motherfuckers but it's actually because we don't always feel it. Some bands can tour solidly for two years and play the same ten songs every night as it'll increase sales. We can't go through the motions, I can't be bored senseless and pretend I'm enjoying it. It just doesn't work. I don't want to be doing it for the sake of being paid at the end of the night, I think that that's a pathetic existence."
But this isn't what you want to read is it? Keeping in mind the previous references to dance music, Justin caused a furore in his last Terrorizer interview with his Hip-Hop Versus Metal controversy, so let's increase the post bag once more. Listen to the opening track on the album, I, Me, Mine and as well as some overblown, distorted vocals and bouts of Justin's trademark singular, drawn out guitar work, you will also be confronted by some severe breakbeats and basslines that could have come off any particularly violent underground dance 12". At this juncture, keep in mind that just as the term Metal encompasses a huge spectrum of variety and strength, so does dance. Whilst I cannot personally find anything nice to say about mainstream commercial, intelligence-insulting House or Garage or have any time for the 'Oasis are shite therefore all guitar based music is arse' opinions of much of that genre's press, there are certain elements of dance music that have a danger and power to them that is as extreme (be it in terms of their respective genres or in the sphere of extreme music per se) as anything else you'd care to name. Having listened to Metal for twenty-odd years it continues to be my favourite genre, yet I often wonder about the way in which a fusing of genres should be done. For example, whenever I hear a Metal band that tries to mix in a dose of Rap, I wind up just laughing at the thought of Public Enemy taking such a band by the balls and heartily punting back to wherever they came from.
"Metal kids do seem to think that they're listening to the most extreme form of music," reckons Justin, "and when people say that I must be a huge fan of Metal my response is like, 'no, I'm a huge fan of anything fucking brutal'. I don't care what style it is, how old they are or what they look like; there's no agenda. If it hits me and it's hard I want to know about it. It's getting there, slowly, but take Korn or Limp Bizkit with their tinny kick drums...if one of those bands would actually juxtapose brutal Hip-Hop rhythms with brutal riffs they'd be on to something but they just have a token break and then it's back to the clicky beats and highly polished riffs. I'm not interested in making it big, I can't understand that agenda. I'm just interested in brutalizing people."