The godlike genius of Godflesh
BY JASON ANDERSON
Justin Broadrick's music goes to extremes, but extremes aren't what they used to be. Try to quantify the damage done in the 10 years since Napalm Death's debut LP, in the 20 years since the first Throbbing Gristle recordings, in the 30 years since Karlheinz Stockhausen's Hymnen and Lou Reed's guitar solo on "I Heard Her Call My Name." With rock (and avant garde) music's shock value largely spent, it takes some ingenuity to unsettle, some sophistication to create music that is visceral and aggressive, but doesn't involve guys who worship Tolkien characters or burn down Scandinavian churches. (And that isn't screamed in Japanese, the current language of choice for recorded psychoses.)
Godflesh's Songs Of Love And Hate (Earache) is not Broadrick's nastiest piece of work - - the contenders for that prize would be Godflesh's Streetcleaner or God's The Anatomy Of Addiction - - but it is one of a tiny number of Real Rock (in the Joe Carducci sense of the phrase) discs of the last two years that're smarter than a sack of potatoes. The metal-market fetishes for speed and virtuosic technique are foregone for power and flow as layers of guitars pummel, surge and retreat. Previously drum machine-dependent, Broadrick and bassist G.C. Green are joined by a live drummer, Brian Mantia (who's since joined Primus and been replaced by ex-Swans/Prong drummer Ted Parsons). The resulting structures draw equally from hip-hop and rock, and the album possesses a sonic breadth and depth more often associated with ambient than big, gnarly metal.
Songs Of Love And Hate fits into a very unique set of work because Broadrick is a musician whose material bridges grindcore and techno, industrial and ambient, Kerrang! and The Wire. Recent releases by projects featuring the England-based Broadrick and Kevin Martin, the compiler of Virgin's Macro Dub Infection and Jazz Satellites sets and the promoter of the first-ever Godflesh show, include: a new EP by Techno Animal, plus a track on Bill Laswell's Axiom Dub set; Quarantine, a remix EP by Ice, as well as the Ice vs. Palace collision on Macro Dub 2 and a forthcoming major-label debut on Reprise/Warner; and the brutalist techno of Colonized by The Sidewinder. Due to the unwieldy number of members, Martin has decided that the absurdly evil-sounding ensemble named God is dead. Broadrick has also released a few discs of collaborations with the guitarist in Blind Idiot God and ambient solo recordings as Final, including last fall's excellent Final 2. Only Laswell, Scorn's Mick Harris and John Zorn are this prolific.
"To be honest," the garrulous but bald Broadrick says from New York just before Godflesh's U.S. tour last November, "I'd just built up so much over the last year-and-a-half that I hadn't really noticed myself what I'd been doing. Only now have I actually sat back and thought, 'Whoa, hold on, how many records have I just made?' "
Er, quite a lot, and they each gain power and context when seen as parts of one project. "In a lot of the stuff I do - - regardless of what areas it seems to float into - - there's a general vibe you can't escape from," says Broadrick. "It's hard for me to tell because I do it, but a lot of people say, 'Hey, man, I'll sit down and listen to Godflesh in the daytime, Techno Animal in the evening, Final before I go to bed,' and they'll get the whole thing. It seems that people who appreciate all the different types of music will see the consistency of atmosphere."
And I find it odd to connect with Songs Of Love And Hate so strongly at a point in my listening life when I don't much like rock music. But then, neither does Broadrick (we bond over a mutual affection for the Red House Painters, I inevitably recommend Stina Nordenstam and it turns out that all of Godflesh's Leonard Cohen allusions are purely intentional).
"Part of the reason I think Godflesh is so necessary in the music world is because there isn't anyone doing what we do," he says, citing for Godflesh antecedents like the Swans and Killing Joke. "There is that gap. I'm not hearing what I want out of rock music, so we're making it. When I do like rock music, it's often really brutal, simple stuff. It's basic, but it's so fucking direct, so straight to the point. I like it brutally extreme - - no middle, really."
Indeed, Songs Of Love And Hate is at one extreme and the Virgin compilation Ambient 4: Isolationism (to which Broadrick and Martin contributed most of the creepiest moments) is at the other. The latter - - which, like The Wire, has galvanized a varied set of artists into some kind of community - - unfolds like excerpts from soundtracks for horror movies too horrible to actually be made. Like Techno Animal's Re-Entry and Final 2, it's a napalm attack on Windham Hill. As a progenitor of some of the most insane rock ever made (Broadrick, like Mick Harris, once called Napalm Death home) and this malevolent anti-mood music, is there any work that Broadrick considers too extreme to be unleashed?
"Oh, not in the slightest," he says good-humoredly. "For us, the more extreme it is, the more it's got to be released as quick as possible. 'Does this sound pretty "out"?' 'Yeah, it is - - this is it.' The stuff we don't release is the stuff that doesn't sound extreme enough, in whatever direction we're working in."