Godflesh holds power, paranoia and programming for a grave new world. Story by Jason Pettigrew.
Pure and simple, Godflesh is a band entwined in paradox. Their line-up includes two guitarists, a bass player, and a drum machine and in no way resembles bands that have worked in that format. Godflesh makes its presence known by a lumbering, incessant rumbling much akin to a tank that only gets a top speed of, say, 50 mph, but will spread carnage and destroy everything in front of it. Yet the group is on the English metal label Earache, known for its roster of meta-thrash extremists that play songs like "Crepitating Bowel Erosion" at cylinder melting speed.
While the genre of metal is lyrically overrun with tired science fiction, soup of Satan, and apocalyptic vision, Godflesh jabs at the psyche's nerve endings. When the leader/guitarist Justin Broadrick exhorts, "Don't hold me back/this is my own hell" while guitars sizzle like burning flesh in Christbait Rising, it is o bvious that Godflesh are a force to be dealt with in no uncertain terms.
"It does command your attention," informs Broadrick about the nature of his band. "We played with Nirvana the other week and that was a really good gig because it shut out all the undesirables. People were either hiding away from the sound or they were in front of the stage screaming their heads off. It demands extreme attention, which I think is far more positive than people saying, 'Yeah, they're OK, I guess.' It's better if they say 'I fucking despise this' or 'Jesus, that blew me away.'"
Broadrick was a guitarist in notorious British thrash aggregate Napalm Death in the early part of 1985; at the same time, he formed Fall Of Because with C. Christian Green (a.k.a. Benny) and Paul Neville. He then quit Napalm Death to join Head Of David as drummer, playing on their second album Dustbowl as well as the Peel Sessions EP, White Elephant. Disgusted with the direction ("The two guys wanted to play metal and me and the bass player wanted to bastardize it and make that the intention. The other guys wanted to be in Bon Jovi and that kind of bollocks."), he quit Head Of David and formed Godflesh with Green almost immediately. Their self-titled six-track mini-LP was released and the result was staggering. Moving at a pace like that of early Swans with intensified guitars, they were oppressive and brutal. They were signed to Earache by label president Dig Pearson and their next installment was their full length album Streetcleaner, which has been released domestically for the first time on these shores in a deal with the Combat/Relativity label. Despite associations with metal record companies, Broadrick doesn't think of his band as such.
"I don't think so. I wouldn't like to characterize Godflesh at all. The whole point is that people should have to guess. I've been influenced by metal as much as I am hardcore or jazz. If it is metal, it's disciplined beyond belief. It's almost the antithesis of metal. There's no 'arms in the air' shit.
"We have three very main sources of inspiration that we may not even listen to anymore, but they definitely influenced us. The sound is more Killing Joke, Black Sabbath, and Throbbing Gristle. Black Sabbath and Led Zep were very much rock; I wouldn't call them metal anymore."
Broadrick mentions that his use of a drum machine for Godflesh came of necessity. In spite of critics who balked at the concept before listening to the final product, you would be hardpressed to find a drum machine sound so incredibly punchy on any record in the past decade.
"Oh yeah, I'd agree with that. We have suffered that a few times," he says regarding all comparisons to Big Black. "I've worked with Steve Albini before when I was in Head of David and he's been a source of inspiration but never to the point of imitation. I'm infatuated with rhythm anyway. I had the exact ideas I wanted for the rhythms anyway but could not find a drummer actually good enough within the Birmingham area to execute the stuff. We've stuck with a machine anyway because there's no point in having to dictate a drummer's parts. I have a strong dislike for most drummers anyway [he laughs]."
Streetcleaner is a (de)testimony of the human condition. There isn't much optimism in songs like Mighty Trust Crusher, Locust Furnace or the deceptive Life Is Easy. The grudging programming coupled with the oppressive guitars and Broadrick's commanding vocal isn't the product of conscientiously trying to be the end-all of power.
"Paranoia more than power is a subject within Godflesh. Basically paranoid of the world as a whole or what people are capable of. It interests me as much as it scares the fuck out of me.
"It's strange, it's really hard because in every interview I do, people just aren't quite getting out of me what they'd like to. The music always speaks more. Sometimes lyrics within Godflesh really do not mean anything apart from the fact that they have a definite feeling. And expressing that feeling may only take three sentences and repeating them over and over. The roles that the band take on are probably very dominative. It's like we're not attacking- we're defending ourselves. But I think it's a very fucking strong defense."
Godflesh have a lot of projects slated for this year. Besides completing their new LP for a spring release, they will be doing a Sub Pop single of the month, as well as a split single with Loop on which they cover each other's songs (Loop does Like Rats, and Godflesh covers their Sound Head track.) [slateman's note: of course, it wasn't Sound Head after all, but rather Straight to your Heart. Perhaps that was the original planned track?]
Broadrick also has a side project called Sweet Tooth with former members of Slab! and Head Of David that have recently released an EP in England. He also mentions that they will be using some new technology to make their sound bigger and wider than on previous releases, pointing out the two tracks the band did for a Pathological Records compilation early last year. Hopefully after two visa denials from immigration officials, the band will play their first American gigs.
Final paradox: throughout our conversation Broadrick remained totally candid and polite. He laughed quite often, especially when I told him that a stateside skate magazine reported that Godflesh was turning into a hip-hop band- the antithesis of what the band does in the studio or on a stage.
"Most people who come to interview us expect us to bite their heads off. In character we're quite contrary to what we play. People see us live and they won't agree with that, they think we're gonna kill them or something. They can't believe how happy we are. And quite regular.
"I like that in a sense. We try to look at the brighter side of things. We do more laughing than we do moaning but we do do a fuck of a lot of moaning. I think with the world in general, we are totally disgusted. I can't stand 80% of the human race anyway. I'm not hateful in that sense; I'm more hateful in the music. It's like a release."
He pauses for a moment. "I hate saying that because it's such a fucking cliché. But I think it's safer than what the other side of my character could possibly be."