Godflesh To Play Supersonic. Justin Broadrick Talks Reformation

Rob Haynes speaks to avant metal pioneer Justin Broadrick about getting the gang back together for a series of hellish shows...

From the Supersonic website: "Following the news that the 2010 edition of Birmingham’s acclaimed annual Supersonic Festival will be headlined by Swans, Capsule are hugely excited to announce the second headlining act, Godflesh. Acclaimed by many as founders of the industrial metal movement, Godflesh will be returning to their Birmingham roots to play the band’s first UK show in over 10 years. Featuring band members Justin Broadrick (ex-Napalm Death and Head of David) and Benny Green (ex-Fall of Because), [they] will be bringing their crushing, apocalyptic sound back home to Birmingham in only their second show since they disbanded in 2002.

"We cannot even recall specifically the first Birmingham Godflesh show. Oddly, we think it was supporting Suicide in 1988, just after the release of our first mini LP on Swordfish, the record label of Birmingham’s best record shop. So it’s only natural that the first Godflesh UK show in its original form in over 10 years, comes home to its birthplace, and for whom better than Supersonic, the organisation responsible for keeping Birmingham on the map with underground music, be it metal or otherwise. It is with great pleasure that Godflesh returns to its roots." – Justin Broadrick

The thunderous rock heritage bequested the world by the Midlands of England took a startlingly effective turn for the brutal in the late 1980s. Taking the genetic strain of genre progenitors Black Sabbath and the magnificent yob-metal/ punk blend that was Stoke’s Discharge, in 1987 Birmingham’s Napalm Death announced their arrival by inserting the rocket-fueled suppository of their Scum album into the extreme scene. Guitarist on that debut was Justin Broadrick, whose fidgety musical imagination led him to depart after one side of their debut release, first to the drum stool of cult alt-noisers Head of David and then on to a project he could call his own – the mighty Godflesh. Amid the fertile noise scene as it stood, Godflesh – with Broadrick on guitar and vocals, GC Green (Benny to his friends) on bass, and an appropriately relentless drum machine – hit a midway point between the neurotic spite of Big Black and the death-knell hammer blows of Swans.

Their eponymous 1988 debut was a scabrous anvil dropped onto the toes of the metal audience. Broadrick barked inhuman vocals over scything deconstructed Sabbath riffs, Green’s bass sounded like the noise a glacier might make as it remorselessly ground a mountain to dust, while the machine rhythms added the trademark industrial edge.

Moving to Earache records, the duo released their full-length debut Streetcleaner in 1989, an album which cemented their reputation as the most potent purveyors of misanthropic brutality.

The albums that followed all sought to diversify and consolidate a formula that had already been all but perfected – they experimented with second guitarists (Loop’s Robert Hampson joined for 1992’s dense, inhospitable Pure), Slavestate (1991) saw a full integration of remix culture. In 1994 Selfless returned to the super-dense riffery of their debut but also saw a widening melodic strain that would come to full bloom in Broadrick’s post-Godflesh act Jesu. Songs of Love and Hate (1996) found the duo expanding the rhythm base with drummer Brian Mantia, Us and Them (1999) incorporated spidery drum and bass inflections.

The departure of Green following the recording of 2001’s Hymns saw Broadrick recruit scene veterans Paul Raven on bass and Ted Parsons on drums in the subsequent tour, but the band’s momentum was spent and Broadrick called time soon afterwards.

In the years since, Green disappeared from the musical scene while the mercurial Broadrick poured his talents into a variety of projects, most notably Jesu, which took Godflesh’s power and crystallised it into towering near-spiritual shapes, akin to a steroid-assisted Cocteau Twins.

With Broadrick rarely one to look backwards, it came as a considerable surprise when it was announced that Godflesh would be making a one-off reunion appearance at France’s prestigious metal gathering Hellfest. Further to that came news of a 2-CD remastered edition of Streetcleaner for release this month. And now it has been announced that the group (Broadrick and Green) will now be playing Supersonic in Birmingham this Autumn. Somewhat liberated of the misanthropic bile of that record, an enthusiastic Broadrick spoke to us a few weeks ago to explain the state of play in Godflesh 2010. Try and spot the unconvincing fib!

How did the Godflesh reformation come about?

Justin Broadrick: It’s for a high calibre European metal festival called Hellfest in France. They’ve spent the last three years trying to get us to do a Godflesh reunion and we’d turned down every offer they made, until about about nine months ago. To be honest we thought it’d be the last thing we’d ever do, it’d contradict everything we’d talked about in a way, but for some reason the last offer they made I suddenly got a bit nostalgic. Like any of us, if becomes a bit of a sentimental thing, wondering what it’d be like to do this not as a teenager. I though Benny would just be totally negative about it. Even though I’ve continued to work in music ever since the demise of Godflesh, he had stepped away from music and got a very nice job, been to university and got degrees, so I just casually mentioned it to him, but as soon as I did he was really quite thrilled about it, which took me by surprise. I thought it was a dead subject between us. If he’d have turned round and said ‘no chance’ I’d have agreed, but he inspired me to start thinking positively about it. We talked about it solidly for about a month and then went back to Hellfest and said yes – believe it or not we’ll do it.

Is it just a one-off?

JB: Ye-e-e-ss. We wouldn’t commit either way until we do this performance I think. It’s going to be hard to say whether it feels right or wrong until we’ve actually played as Godflesh. Maybe we’ll feel like a couple of old geezers treading water – or if we’re excited by it and it works then yeah, we may do more. Now we’re older and (laughs) well, subjectively mature, we’ll see if it still gets the juices flowing.

Steetcleaner perhaps wasn’t an obvious candidate for a deluxe edition reissue – what did you think about the whole project?

JB: Earache had already reissued a couple of budget priced Godflesh box-sets – Pure, Slavestate and stuff – and they’d remastered them themselves and I really wanted to get in on the act this time. I hadn’t had a particularly good or stable relationship with the label, but I’d always wanted to do something with Streetcleaner. I always thought that album justified going the distance, but I said I’d only get involved if I could hold the reins, and they were totally open to that. So I remastered it myself in my own studio, and found lots of bonuses, rehearsal versions, live versions, an entire unreleased version of side one that I dug out of the garage, and cobbled together this super-deluxe version of the album which is actually really fucking good.

You describe the album as “THE most direct statement of intent we made”.

JB: The first mini-album and Streetcleaner were made so instinctively, unaffected by any sense of ambition, they were very pure. I was 18, 19 when I made them. They’re primitive, instinctual records. Genuinely angry, genuinely confused, genuinely frustrated.

So the music was a direct reflection of your emotions at the time? You really were that angry?

JB: Yeah. Full of self-loathing and distaste at the human race generally. I’d just come out of Napalm Death at the time and Godflesh was post-anarcho punk. I became really disillusioned with that whole scene. There were a lot of holier-than-thou attitudes, a mess of contradictions, so many fucking hypocrites jumping up on their pedestals to tell you you weren’t the right vegetarian or the right vegan or you weren’t wearing the right boots. I became disillusioned with the scene, humanity, friendships, everything. To me as well, I was always striking out from my Birmingham council estate upbringing. I was still a direct product of that at that time and completely at odds with the environment I’d been brought up in. I hated living on a violent council estate. I didn’t blend in very well, I felt ultra-sensitive to it, and Godflesh was the sound of revenge on the shit-holes I grew up in, and the knuckle-scraping ignorant bastards I had to spend most of my childhood around. It’s a highly reactionary record, a really knee-jerk reaction to humanity at its lowest level.

I first saw you on that tour and was blown away with the intensity of you live

JB: Yeah. It was like all-out war at that time. Every performance felt like a fucking war on stage [laughs]. It was Godflesh versus humanity back then, any platform was just one to rage at people, no matter how misdirected it was. I was 19 and highly frustrated by many things which I guess still frustrate me now, but I can be a tad more articulate about it these days. Then, it was just lashing out. It was almost abstract, surreal.

It wasn’t long before you were also dabbling in side-projects like Scorn and Sweet Tooth. Is that restlessness just a part of your character?

JB: Yes, it was always there. When I joined Napalm Death I think I was 14 and I’d already been doing a project called Final for a couple of years, which I still do now as an underground experimental project. I was doing that when I was 13-years-old. I was running a cassette label – I must have sold about three of each one I did. I ran it out of my mum’s council flat. I was inspired by Whitehouse, Throbbing Gristle, all that sort of stuff. It was clear to me that not only did I have this bludgeoning need to make music, I had this instinctive need to express it in multiple ways. It’s a strange musical schizophrenia. I think once I immerse myself in something so singularly I get a bit suffocated by it, and to get air I push myself into something else. Then I can see what the other thing is and go back to it with a sense of clarity. I guess other musicians just take a break from their one project. I have to delve into something else.

There’s a radio session of the Streetcleaner song Pulp which features an incredible saxophone contribution from Kevin Martin – did you ever think of expanding things more in that direction?

JB: We got Kevin down for a couple of live sessions where he’d get up and we’d play these 10, 15 minute live versions with him freaking out on the sax at the end. That was really enjoyable but then I started helping out with his band God, and that concept got gradually absorbed into what God eventually became. Arguably what Godflesh did was become rockier and rockier, more traditional to some extent, even though our tastes became more abstract. Ben and I essentially wished just to make a form of rock music.

You’d intermittently recruit other guitarists or drummers into the line-up, but I always thought that you were most effective as a two-piece

JB: In hindsight I completely agree. Now we’ve reformed it’s just the two of us. We felt the same thing – all the integration that we tried just diluted what we set out to be. Everybody that joined the group brought something, but it did dilute the purity.

Are you happy with the way the rest of Godflesh’s career panned out?

JB: I could say there are a lot of regrets but it’s fairly pointless. I don’t think we were entirely happy with any record we made, but for me that continues anyway, I don’t think I’ll ever make a record I’m entirely happy with. I’m mostly proud of the records up to and including Selfless, I think. After that, for me it became more and more self-conscious and as a consequence lost its way a little bit. I think we should probably have finished a couple of albums earlier than we did to be really honest. It’s not like I didn’t enjoy making those records, but it had lost its way by that time.

You recorded Hymns with Ted Parsons on drums. By the time of the tour Benny had left and you had Paul Raven on bass – it was like a traditional rock line-up

JB: Ted Parsons is an amazing drummer, but it just changed the sound of the band, more noticeably than any record prior to it I think. Godflesh was intended to be this mechanized thing in terms of the rhythms, and I think that’s what gave it its strength. That’s how we got noticed – the combination of ultra-downtuned guitars and drum machines that sounded unlike the drum machines people had heard before. There are some great songs on Hymns and some amazing live performances from that period, but I wasn’t entirely sure what we were trying to achieve any more by then. It should have been a different band towards the end really.

Will the reunion effect the sound of Jesu?

JB: In a way what’s good is it gives me chance for Jesu to take a back seat for a while. I’ve become so obsessed with that whole sound, and I’ve released so many records as Jesu in the last few years it’s got to the point of saturation. It’s good to kick back for a bit and reassess what I’m doing there as well. I’ve been working on a new album for the last six months, but I wanted to perfect it. The Godflesh stuff has made me look at Jesu from a different perspective and define it more clearly.

Well good luck with the gig – I hope it goes so well that you’re inclined to do some more

JB: You never know (laughs). Let’s see.

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