"You were dead from the begin-innngg!" he howls into the mic, not even realizing the awful irony of his words.
On the floor the situation's gotten worse. There's been another stabbing. Blood's everywhere. A chill of paralyzing fear hangs heavy in the air. The power cuts. The lights go up. Godflesh's drum machine stops in mid-riff. Justin and hulking bassist G. Christian "Benny" Green look very confused-and very scared.
They stand around for a few minutes, unsure of what to do as bouncers and soundmen bark at each other. Somebody shouts at Justin, "Your audience is killing each other!" He's nonplussed, unable to say a goddamn word. He mumbles somthing into the mic about the show being over. The crowd grows more agitated. You can see the fear ripple over Broadrick's gaunt features as he stands onstage alone, absorbing the crowd's anger. A few minutes later, he's channeling it right back at them. The lights go down once more, and Godflesh are absolutely terrifying.
They thrive on emotions like this.
"I was so totally frightened that night, so totally shit-scared," says Broadrick many months later from the safety of his home in Birmingham, England. That ugly night last spring-when the band was in the midst of the appropriately named GrindCrusher US tour with British noisemongers Napalm Death and Floridian techno-deathsters Nocturnus-is just a bad, yet nevertheless persistent memory. "I was wracked with terror, the feeling that I could die at any minute. I've obviously got quite a fear of dying-especially at the ands of other people. Then again, I've got a fear of just about everything. Gang violence scares me. Planes scare me. I can't stand flying. Every second I'm in the air, I just think that something isn't right, that the plane is about to crash. Fear is a really important factor in what we do. Godflesh is scared music, which is why it's so strong-we're always trying to bring those feelings up to the surface."
Which they do monstrously on their latest album, Pure. You thought you knew the meaning of "Heavy"? Think again. Hailing from the cold, grey steel town that years ago belched Black Sabbath unto the world. Godflesh are heavy to the point of being oppressive. They don't want you to punch the air. They make you feel as if you're being pulped, doomed, exiled. Their songs are mulchingly slow, six-minute experiments in techno-core rhythms and industrial metal-noise. Justin's and new axeman Robert Hampson's (ex of psychedelic trance-inducers Loop) guitars are hacked to single, ear-splitting chords, and the machine-generated percussion is so pagan and bloody, you might as well be listening to the sound of cleavers cutting fresh meat. Even their titles suggest a sence of vicious, naked power: "Predominance", "Spite", "Mothra" (yes, a tribute to that Tokyo-flattening insect). It's as if your whole body is made to serve as a giant ear, as you are beaten upon by a low-level shock wave. You lose all defenses and filters against the world.
In Justin Broadrick's world, paranoia reigns supreme. "I'm basically a weak person," he admits. "Generally quite nervoius and very, very weak. That's just the way I've always felt, just really naked-especially in public. I think I'm too oversensitive most of the time, seeing a conspiracy behind almost everything."
He is a strange one. Unlike Godflesh's other members, the relatively soft-spoken Benny of the friendly, outgoing Robert, Justin is an out-and-out alien. He snickers nervously any time the word death comes up in conversation. he rarely, if ever, leaves the house where he lives with his girlfriend Liz and Godflesh's ex-guitarist, Paul Neville (who amicably left the band after touring the US last year to form his own group, Cable Regime). And like the nervous, yet friendly vampire he appears to be, Justin's rarely up before the sun goes down. "I tried to give up sleeping last week," he says, matter-of-factly. "It didn't work. I actually dropped down in the end. My head turned into a cabbage!"
Calling him the '90's answer to the infamous magaician/philosopher Aleister Crowley or a cyberpunk William S. Burroughs isn't far off the mark. Night after night Broadrick can usually be found in his basement studio, recording, mixing, constantly invoking the demons of sound. "It's the only way I could work, just doing it, controlling it all myself," he insists. "I just can't work in a different, alien environment." Pure was the product of these musical midnight black masses. To enhance these extreme emotions, Godflesh's enigmatic Justin has pushed his mind and body to the edge by smoking bales upon bales of pot, creating a drug-induced paranoia that he finds absolutely essential to Godflesh's techno-physical plummel.
"It just heightens what's real," he admits. "I find that a lot of the paranoid trips that I possibly get through smoking so much dope are really quite real. Actually, I find dope very, very therapeutic. I'd stick up for it on all levels. Unfortunately, I'm also consumed by it now. People sometimes say that there's nothing addictive to pot whatsoever but, of course, there is, and I live in a very real pot reality! I think if I went to a psychoanalyst, they'd just say that all this paranoia is due to the fact that I smoke so much dope. The fact is, it was definitely there before; the dope just heightened it. i do keep thinking that Godflesh should be interviewed in High Times though."
Yes, it was there before. Justin's moods of absolute alienation date back to what was a decidedly unconventional childhood, growing up on a nastly little British commune. "It was a bunch of people just absolutely wasted from the back-end of the '60s taking loads of drugs-Big time stuff like smack and shit-and really grossing out," he recalls. "Not exactly the proper way to bring up a small child. My mom was too young and too confused, and my dad ended up turning into a complete heroin addict. He was always at the hospital, being told that they'd have to cut off his legs if he couldn't find any more veins! He just turned into a complete monster. My mom had to divorce him. He tried to kill me and my mom numerous times by giving us a mixture of barbituates and heroin and alcohol. Thank god that he finally got out of all of that. Now all he wants to be is a mildly successful graphic artist."
"The interesting thing about growing up like that was how it made me so painfully aware of what was going on around me," Broadrick believes. "Once I was put into the educational system, I became aware of how different I was-especially when my parents kept telling me that noone could ever find out how we really lived or what my home life was really like. I guess I've always been incredibly paranoid from a very young age."
As a youngster, Justin retreated from this psychic pain into the world of music. He was taught to play guitar by one of a long string of stepfathers. Of course, he was always poring through his parents' record collection for offbeat inspiration. "There was Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath," Godflesh's mainman informs me, "but it was always the stuff that wasn't so standard that grabbed me. I was always playing things like Lou Reed's Metal Music Machine when I was about eight! Stuff like Can, the weirdest parts of Pink Floyd, Hendrix."
By the time he was 15, Broadrick, then hooked on the primal scream of punk, was playing in the band that proclaimed itself "The End of Music as We Know It," Napalm Death. "It was such an extreme back then," he remembers. "We just wanted to cross the whole metal thing with hardcore punk, like DRI meets Celtic Frost-played as fast as possible. I was glad I left when I did though. I don't think Napalm Death should have continued much beyond the first album, Scum. Now they're just completely boring."
Broadrick then switched to drums and sat in with legendary noisesters Head of David, an experience that pushed him straight into forming Godflesh. "When I left Head of David it felt absolutely necessary for me to create something as strong as I humanly could. They wanted to become more of a conventional rock band. They were listening to Whitesnake and taking it seriously! I wanted to sound really nihilistic, to explore total extremism on any and all levels."
Godflesh became his vehicle. Teamed with Benny, a mate of his from a previous band, Fall of Because, and an Alesis-16 drum machine, Broadrick began carving out a truly massive, subterranean grinding noise. Hell in stereo. With each successive release the sound has only grown more extreme and forboding. From the pulsing lava flow of their self-titled debut EP and the harrowing Streetcleaner album, to the industrial dance fascinations of last year's Slavestate minii-lp, and the horrifying noise totality of Pure, Godflesh's sound is constantly on the move.
"We never see what we do as being that long-term," the guitarist believes. "We always really need to move on. Hopefully the people who enjoy our music will go with us. It's essential for us to challenge the old values, the previous values. Destroying what you've created, or destroying what you love, then re-creating it, is a very important lesson. It'll be interesting to see if I still like Pure in six months."
For the moment, Pure is the most evocative roar Godflesh has belched up to date. A metal junkyard of strange harmonics and decayed muzak. A melting psyechedelia in which guitars seem to snicker malevolently over an ice-cold drum machine and the low-end throttle of a clanging bass. Two sides of technology gone amok that would rattle even Ministry's chain-link cage, and that makes Nine Inch Nails sound like the Pet Shop Boys! "It's a sound that feels like it's absolutely imperative to be making," Justin says. "There's no other way, artistically, I could express all the confusion and anger I have."
Broadrick pauses for a minute to consider the meaning of the word pure. It sounds as if he's talking about transcending himself, his paranoias, his fears, by submitting to the stark enormity of Godflesh's sound. "I'm finding myself empathizing with Alien a lot these days." he says, bringing up his favorite film, the haunting tale of a psychosexual space demon. "It's just about total direction, complete admirable direction. To me, that film is about purity, about having free will and executing it. I guess I feel empathy with the alien because that's how I would like to physically form my emotions-into a monster in that shape and form that destroys without remorse. I identify with it on a very sad level. I always look for hope in people and can't find any hope on any level. The only way out is pain, for these people to feel pain and see horror."
It's a wonder Justin didn't end upa serial killer. "That's why I have music," he says. "Without an artistic outlet, my existence would be nothing. I'd become a total psychopath without Godflesh to vent my anger and hatred. The only other possible art would be to take other people's will."
That's precisely what Godflesh are doing now, bulldozing audiences across the US in the industrial strength company of Ministry. A more disturbed and overwhelming sound you'll probably never hear. Godflesh is music that feels like it's pinning your eyeballs back. A coronary that plays on for years.
"Sometimes I'm scared of my own thoughts, the things I fantasize about
doing," admits Justin Solemnly. "Thank God I'm not killing people for therapy."