"I didn't hear voices. It was a conscious decision on my part. It was a power thing. I simply acted on my fantasies." - mass murderer Henry Lee Lucas, subject of the documentary Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer. With this quote, the industrial-thrash terrorists Godflesh open their song "Streetcleaner" the title track off their 1990 debut album. (slate's note: 1989 not 1990) Understand the sentiment behind the quote and you understand the motivation and driving force behind Godflesh.
"We're all about unrelenting power," says vocalist/guitarist Justin Broadrick of the band's music. "I'm very much into the extremes of music and philosophy. I have a strange admiration for people like Henry Lucas, who are unencumbered by morality or social constraints. Maybe that's way I identify so much with Ridley Scott's "Alien." It was a creature without remorse and of pure purpose-- so focused, so refined, so directed... wow, so pure."
The fact that the second Godflesh LP is called Pure is no coincidence. Justin Broadrick sees purity as a strength, and uses this notion to light the fire beneath the oppressive and totalitarian sound of Godflesh. The music this band creates is beyond heavy-- it is indeed oppressive. And it's an oppression generated by the band's nihilistic and misanthropic outlook on humanity and the world.
"I don't have a very optimistic view of humanity," admits Justin. "Eighty percent of it is shit, and as a whole, mankind is very weak and without any kind of purpose. Once in awhile people need to be crushed emotionally and intellectually to be reminded of reality. That's the basic purpose of our music, to shock everyone back into the real world, and to how lousy it is."
With songs like "Wound," "Mighty Trust Crusher" and "Like Rats," it's easy to understand why many critics have called the Godflesh sound "music for the apocalypse." The cover of their first album, Streetcleaner, depicts dozens of people nailed to crosses. Justin and his long-time friend G. Christian Green, the band's bassist, have always shared this fatalistic vision. This maniacal world view manifests itself in the band's music-- which has the industrial strength of Ministry and the doom-laden metal crunch of early Black Sabbath. In fact, the band emerged from the same soot-choked northern English city as Sabbath-- Birmingham. Justin's whole background consists of the kind of factors that would lead him inevitably to the path he has chosen in life.
His parents were mere teenagers when they raised him on a drug-infested commune in the early seventies. His father was a heroin addict who tried to kill both Justin and his mother with drug overdoses. The people on the commune listened to the extremes of the psychedelic rock underground. Justin admits these were contributing factors to who he is today. Though he vehemently avoids hard drugs, he smokes copious amounts of pot to heighten his awareness-- "Mostly of fear and paranoia," he proclaims. His tastes in music were profoundly molded by the people who influenced him when he was very young. He was exposed to a wide range of [?]Led Zeppelin to Swans and Throbbing Gristle. This is music in an unclassifiable amalgam or [?] it that way,
"I don't want people to be able to pigeonhole us," says Justin. "We take drawing all kinds of fans. Our only intent is to play what we like and to play what we feel (which happens to be a lot of anger). Too many bands these days actually want to be categorized because of commercial considerations. Even the bands on our label, Earache, all try to fall on that so-called "grindcore/death metal" category. It's all so contrived and so boring-- the same old riffs, the same old gimmicks. We did that shit years ago with Napalm Death. [Justin played drums for them on their '85 debut album, Scum.] (slate's note: wasn't that '86?) Even they have become stagnant and stale now. I believe music should be dynamic-- ever changing. Though i've kept a basic consistent style, Pure is very different from Streetcleaner, and our next album will move in still another direction. In fact, I can't even listen to the old stuff anymore."
Between Streetcleaner and Pure was the Slavestate EP, which signaled the transition between the two LPs. Godflesh now is more sample oriented in the vein of Skinny Puppy, whom they toured with here in the States recently. For the Pure album and tour, Justin and Christian "Benny" Green recruited Robert Hampson, former guitarist the heavy, psychedelia-edged outfit, Loop. Apparently, he fit in just fine when you consider what he said in a recent interview: "I find a lot of beauty in violence. It can be constructive as well as destructive." Hmm, seems to jibe perfectly with Justin's empathy with serial killers.
Verbal sentiments aside, beyond the band's penchant for incorporating hatred and violence in their music, the boys are quite amiable in person. Perhaps the music they play serves as such a powerful release that it funnels all their aggression and anger right out of their systems.
"That's exactly it," agrees Justin. "I wouldn't know what to do without my music. I'm almost afraid to think about I'd either be dead or doing the killing. Ha ha! That's why music is the way it is-- huge, monstrous."
Justin sums up this reasoning by explaining where the name Godflesh came from. "I heard someone once say that "music is the voice of God." In that sense, it's something that can get inside of you and move you spiritually on a communication level. The word God conjures something immense and inconceivable. The 'flesh' part is what effects you on a physical level. Our music is loud and destructive. Like Godflesh is the American Indian term for peyote, but that really is kind of a coincidence. "It's a coincidence that suits me just fine though." [fine... as Justin passes the joint.]
Godflesh are as awe-inspiring as their namesake. And because they believe in musical self-destruction and reinvention what they will come up with next is completely unpredictable.