Not that you’d necessarily think it from a cursory listen to ‘A World Lit Only By Fire’, Godflesh’s first album since their surprise reformation in 2010, but Justin Broadrick is a remarkably mellow chap. Funny, enthusiastic and warm, he tells me that Godflesh is still completely misunderstood by many.
“The strange thing is that it can be appreciated by an audience that’s into very macho metal, hardcore – stuff that involves a lot of very aggressive violent posturing,” he says. “But that couldn’t be any further from what we’re about. Godflesh is like an internal battle externalised. We’re at odds with machismo – we’re at odds with ourselves!”
Being at odds with themselves was clearly a factor in their decision to end the band back in 2002. The collapse of Godflesh left friendships frayed for a time, and with bassist Ben Green no longer wishing to play music at all, Justin had to come to terms with what the band had become.
“The split was pretty implosive and a really uncomfortable way to end things really. For me, Godflesh really suffered in its last three to four years. There were so many contributing factors, but ultimately it was down to me wanting to explore so much other stuff. I was looking to do something far more sombre and melancholy.”
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‘Imperator’, from ‘A World Lit Only By Fire’
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As many will know, Justin followed that particular creative path with Jesu – a band that still polarises opinion among Godflesh fans. In retrospect, Godflesh’s last album, 2001’s ‘Hymns’, was a signpost to where he was headed – as he is well aware.
“Quite clearly that’s almost a transitional record,” he says. “It's still very much Godflesh, but you can hear that it’s clawing at something a bit beyond, and it touches upon things that perhaps Godflesh shouldn’t have.”
Old-school fans will be pleased to hear that the new album doesn’t suffer from any such form of identity crisis. In fact, it might stand as the band’s most focused to date. Talking to Justin it becomes clear that despite his numerous projects, and almost unparalleled productivity rate, he’s deeply interested in developing very distinct styles. The idea that the new album is Jesu with Green on bass is swiftly put aside.
“I want to explore different sides of my personality – what I can be and what I can’t be,” he explains. “But I do like very singular sounding things. (Laughs) I like a wide range of extremely single-minded music.”
Going back just a few years, the notion of a new Godflesh album was something that nobody dared contemplate. Interviews with Justin made clear that, as a creative force, there was no place for the band to exist. It was 2009’s ‘Disconnected’ LP by Greymachine – a collaboration with Isis/Old Man Gloom’s Aaron Turner and long-time Broadrick cohorts Dave Cochrane and Diarmuid Dalton – that reinstated his desire in joining together with Green as Godflesh once more.
“Greymachine was really confrontational, very f*cked up, horribly mutated, psychedelic – very bloated. By the time it came out I was already starting to write stuff that could be Godflesh.”
The writing of this material was somewhat different to what you might expect – the band unlikely to put out a treasure trove of unreleased songs any time soon. “All I did prior to the reformation was visualise and fantasise riffs. But I never once sat down with a guitar and recorded them. They were like dream states, which is really, really odd, but it’s something I often do.”
This hypnotic sensibility is something that comes through in a number of the songs on ‘A World Lit Only By Fire’. And always one to acknowledge his influences, Justin’s response to a suggestion that certain songs bring to mind ‘Revelations’/‘Fire Dances’-era Killing Joke is an enthusiastic one.
“Absolutely. We’ve always been influenced by early Killing Joke, but on this album even more so in some respects – and you've mentioned the absolute records there. ‘Fire Dances’ particularly is absolutely ridiculous. There are bits on that album where it’s obviously guitar, bass, vocals and the all-powerful drums – but you only hear rhythm.”
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Not once did I sit down and play one of our old records to inspire me to write new stuff. It had to feel new, fresh and inspired…
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This approach of everything converging to create a giant, singular groove is something that crops up time and again on the new album – to incredible effect.
“I spoke to someone the other day who said that the song ‘Carrion’ reminded them of the time they stood in front of a car-crushing machine,” Justin says. “That’s quite nice. I do get met with blank faces when I explain that a song was born from a rhythm, but often I’ll put down a rhythm, then try and translate it with guitar. I see Godflesh as body music, to me it’s full of grooves – it’s some odd form of mutational dance music.”
But for all the mechanism and automation, there are organic flaws and imperfections, too. “We intentionally leave little mistakes in,” he reveals, “because I like the frailty of that, juxtaposed with a rhythm machine that doesn’t lose time.”
Ah, the rhythm machine – something for which Godflesh were particularly noted during their initial run. Jump forward to today and anyone using Apple’s GarageBand software has a far more powerful level of music technology available to them than Godflesh ever had in the early ’90s. Does Justin feel modern technologies have influenced the new album much?
“It definitely makes things easier,” he says. “I guess that’s the nice thing, it affords the luxury of convenience – being able to abbreviate time.”
But as listening to the songs on the new album makes clear, if technology has done anything it’s given the band the opportunity to make the most of their heaviness. These tracks are as stripped-back and minimal as many of the pair’s earliest compositions, but they’re delivered with a weight and power that just couldn’t be translated by old drum machines and cassette 4-tracks.
Justin goes on to explain how the band prevented itself from going overboard with the technology on offer.
“I like limitation, I love it. I think limitations keep you disciplined. I don’t like to look at things as totally open-ended, because you just go up your own arse. And this new album was almost born out of those limitations, which is great because it goes back to the early Godflesh records, when we had f*ck all.”
When a band says something like, “this album really goes back to our roots,” it usually ends up in disappointment for them and fans alike. But as Justin is at pains to point out, there was no attempt on the band’s part to recapture any previous sound or feel with the new set.
“Trying to rekindle emotions or ‘capture’ something generally doesn’t work,” Justin explains. “For me, it had to be a rebirth. Not once did I sit down and play one of our old records to inspire me to write new stuff. It had to feel new, fresh and inspired.”
Justin’s desire to not repeat himself manifested itself in a number of ways, such as recording the new album with an eight-string guitar – a move that made it almost impossible to retread previous musical ideas. And as he points out, it helped the band go into uncharted waters.
“An eight-string as a guitar is just inspirational. I struggle with it, which is a good thing, and I find new discords too, which is another good thing. And on top of that I can downtune so f*cking far that I'm going into guttural levels, lower than you can even imagine.”
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‘New Dark Ages’, from ‘A World Lit Only By Fire’
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Justin recorded the new album in the small studio he’s set up in the family home he shares with his partner and young son in a remote part of the Welsh countryside. He described how the album was recorded around stints of childcare.
“When you become a parent you learn to be more concise with everything – which, again, is a fantastic limitation and a fantastic source of discipline. So I have to work in pockets of time. But as we all know, creativity doesn't work like that. It’s not a tap, unfortunately. More often than not, inspiration strikes me when I’m not in the f*cking studio. The studio for me now is where I commit, as I just don’t have that luxury any more of being able to sit there and piss about.”
When Justin talks about not having much time, I can’t help but ask why he’s decided to put this new album out on his own Avalanche imprint. Surely this just makes for more work?
“It’s to the point now where it’s just total overload,” he confirms. “I have no one working for me at this record label. I employ PR and I’ve got a distributor who manufactures the records – really, I don’t have to do a lot more than just oversee it, but that’s still a lot of work. I wouldn’t have it any other way though, I really wouldn’t.
“A lot of labels wanted this new Godflesh material, small labels, even touching upon corporates. But Ben and I always said that, after our early experiences, it’s time that we did this ourselves and entirely reap the benefits of it – instead of giving it out to some label that doesn’t give a shit or just misrepresents us.
“I need to have that complete control – quite clearly I’m a control-addict.”
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Words: James Barry