Armed with a wry visceral propensity for analysis, I inquire if Godflesh's new work, Songs of Love and Hate, is the feelgood, date-rock album of the year. Immediately, the proposition is met with a genuinely boisterous laugh from the Flesh's master of ceremonies, Justin K. Broadrick. his response is prrof positive that the man who has given birth to a musical mix tantamount to total dissonance and infinite anxiety has a ripe sense of humor. This is a fact which gives his soulful artistic dysphoria all the more credence. "We've always been a feelgood band," he laughs. "Actually, we're the feelbad band, feeling good about feeling bad." He laughs again. "It's real beach music, that's the way I'd like to think of Godflesh."
The last time this side of the globe had contact with Birmingham, England's Godflesh was when the duo was on tour opening for Danzig and Type O Negative. A tour it did in support of two Columbia releases (The Merciless EP and Selfless), should have been an opportunity to generate great success but proved to be unproductive in the grand scheme of things. Justin recalls, "it felt all right at the time, made us think we were breaking some barriers possibly, but by the time we finished the tour I think it didn't do us that well. We'd like to reach more people if possible, but I don't think it seemed to succeed as much as everyone else thought it did." The first reason was because Godflesh had under 30 minutes to perform most nights. The second reason was due to the repetitious idle nature of that era's material. The music required a more absorbent palate than the ones shown by fans of "Mother" (Danzig) and "Black Number One" (Type O Negative). Crowds just simply didn't have the patience. Most realized Godflesh music isn't exactly humable how could the band then be expected to reel in recruits in such a constrained format?
Justin: "We should have come back to tour again but then Columbia dropped us and wouldn't give us support. What exactly happened was that we got back in late Dec. ('94) after the Type O/Danzig thing. Then, in late January, we did some European shit that lasted throughout March '95. We had planned in April '95 to come back to the States because Primus, ironically enough, wanted us to open for them."
At that thought he cannot restrain a mirthless little laugh.
Continuing, he explains how his 'Flesh mates were like, "great, let's do it!," so they hit up the label for support, only to be flatout rejected. "We were like, 'what the fuck,'" Justin growls, "'don't you want us to tour with this band? You want Godflesh to ever be something? You HAVE to put us on this tour!' and they went all funny on us, taking three months to ultimately drop us. They strung us out for ages, and we were like 'what's going on with our lives?' And, all of a sudden, it was like 'you guys are gone.' That was it. We couldn't come back to the States. We couldn't get tour support. We couldn't do anything. So we spent four months being depressed."
It was on the aforementioned Selfless tour that the band first debuted a live drummer into its ensemble (slate's note: incorrect, though this may have been the first time they consistently used a drummer, it wasn't the first time a drummer played live with the band), also using one on Songs of Love and Hate. Justin again explains: "Having a drummer feels really good, that's the funny thing. We've always been totally mechanized and suddenly we have a physical feel. Obviously we picked drummers who can play really, uh, mechanical sounding. To us, it was like being on stage with another boost of power, this physical wall of energy we could bounce off of, instead of just the two of us bouncing off each other, which sometimes doesn't go anywhere. It gets hard with only two plus machines. In fact, that chapter, for us, is over."
The first Godflesh marriage with, as Just calls it, "a fleshy percussionist," didn't last. "The drummer who played on this album has just joined Primus!," he shouts with no lack of obvious irony. So we got Ted Parsons [massive cheers] from Prong [boo!] who was also in The Swans [yeah!]."
Percussion. It has always been a rather nebulous factor of the Godflesh sound. On Songs of Love and Hate, the 'Flesh boys combine drum machines with the all-too-human soda-guzzling drummer. As Justin likes to say, "there's about three layer of drums: human, machine and sampled loops. That's what we were looking for. We thought Selfless wasn't rhythm-heavy enough. So what we've done with this record is we really lit it on thick."
Broadrick and bassist Benny Green have really perpetuated a career landmark with Songs of Love and Hate. The best way to describe the new record would be as a fusion of the misanthropic personality of Selfless with the drum ethic and charismatic rhythm of 1989's Streetcleaner. Just agrees: "Yeah, definitely. That's pretty good! We're still pushing things as forward into the future as possible, but combining it with elements that have been quite disparate in the past. The injection of a live drummer is a totally new dynampic for us, something we're now completely in love with. As long as we can have machines AND live drums AND loops, we're really rocking. It should be no problem to pull this off live, and if it works, it will be one huge slab of sound. That's what we're aiming for [on this current tour]. We want to come over for this record [to the States] and really kill...like we've never done before."
Selfless concluded with Godflesh's finest drone epic "Go Spread Your Wings". Is there an equivalent on the new record? Justin admits not. But he says it was a conscious decision: "There are no epics. That's a point we wanted to make with this record. We wanted to cut out the long-winded numbers. With Selfless, we still liked to draw things out. 'Go Spread Your Wings' is one of the last epics we'll do for a couple of years." Upon further questioning, Justin does admit that he'd "love to do it live. We've never even attempted it." Yet he likes the length of the new album with no extra long track. He feels it's "accessible," an album one could listen to in one sitting. And he's candid enough to admit, "even I would listen to our other records in two sittings."
Songs of Love and Hate is so definitive of Godflesh and yet so aurally palatable that had they released this record on Columbia, band history might have been significantly different. "That's funny," concedes Justin, "cause so many people have said that, even internally, people close to us. But that's just the way shit works, and the way shit is always going to work for us. I don't think we're the kind of band that's ever going to sell millions of records. I'm fine with that. It doesn't bother me. The funny thing is we outsold The Swans on our first record and they're an influence. But then we never even reached a more conventional metal or industrial sale."
Ironically enough, the ignorance of the public-at-large notwithstanding, it was Streetcleaner that brought about the industrial/metal fusion. "Exactly. We were the first band to put it together in such a defined way," brags Justin and he's right. But, by the same token, Godflesh is still very much a guitar driven band and the drum machine is now an instrument used to accentuate human percussion. So how does Godflesh fit into today's dance-rock mutant definition of industrial? "It's funny," he philosophizes, "I recently did an interview with a strictly industrial mag and they were saying to ma how we're one of the most argued bands in the scene. Some people argue we're a guitar band so we're rock. Others argue we're industrial. I sit on the fence and listen to this stuff because Godflesh is, for me, the only music encompassing both without pandering to either. And, that was our original vision in '87! We wanted to make ultra-powerful, strong heavy music all-encompassing in extremes. That's what it's all about, extremes, nothing to do with genres. It's obvious we're linking certain directions, but hey, people say we use heavy metal, I say we abuse heavy metal. If people consider us industrial, we haven't got anything to do with that. Anyway, I think of late '70s Throbbing Gristle as a big influence, and they're not considered contemporary industrial at all. And I don't even like much rock either. I just use and abuse what we feel is the best of all the music. We pervert it for our own use."
Streetcleaner's cover was adorned with visions of molten lava cascading onto mass crucifixions, and image adopted from the movie Altered States. On Songs of Love and Hate, a lone crucifixion depicts a stone Christ above a cemetery and a factory spewing waste in the horizon. A single flame rises from a tower. Is there a connection? Has the image gone full circle, from flesh and fire to cold, stone and machines? Jusin say yes: "We're heavy without being dogmatic. There's a fine dividing line. We're not trying to say the obvious, but a large relation exists between the visuals of Streetcleaner and the new album, more so than anything that sits in between. Streetcleaner dealt in a very fantastical personal horror, created by the human mind. That bit from Altered States is a guy's [acid] trip. Everyone in this band has had their own death trip. Songs of Love and Hate deals with REAL horror. That's the difference. This sleeve is a real photo in a real place. Realism!," he shouts. "We're dealing with realism on this record. The points we're making are still suggestive, but they're more black and white. We're not trying to change anything, because you can't change nature. There will always be the strong and the weak. There will always be slavery, bloodshed and war. I haven't got a positive message."
"It's music for Baywatch," says Justin.
[Epilogue: I tried it. I turned on the television with no sound,
waited until the family left the house, cranked up the stereo almost
all the way, and enveloped myself in Songs of Love and Hate while a
steady succession of scantily-clad curvaceous female forms paraded
across the small screen in a Baywatch episode. Beach Music!
Somehow, the sensory overload of pounding Godflesh volume to the
pretty smiling blonde-haired faces made a strange kind of sense. I
may never watch MTV again. --Ed.]