"Five years my brain hurts a lot. Five years, that's all we got." - David Bowie.
Looking out through the dirty, torn curtains that cover the broken glass of my front window overlooking the heatwave-torched sidewalks of Hollywood Boulevard, the relentless howl of "show no mercy", as heard on Godflesh's Merciless, seems to make perfect sense in a world gone askew. The pounding, unfaltering mechanical rhythms and the harsh, constantly dissonant de-tuned guitars are as appropriate a soundtrack for the impending apocalypse as Wagner's overtures were fitting themes for the holocaust of WWII.
What, the end of the world? Some folks -more wise than I- say it's a mere five years away. The end is upon us, say ye prophets, be they the book of Revelations ("For it is a human number"); Nostradamus (complete geological and sociological hupheaval at the 20th Century's conclusion); even the Purple Giant who cast aside his name ("Two Thousand Zero Zero party over -oops- out of time).
And what say Justin Broadrick, head doom merchant, guitar de-tuner and primary focal point of the two man oppression/depression bulldozer known as Godflesh? He responds to the idea of utter annihilation with relative calm.
"I've been convinced of it for years. Even as a young kid, I'd been thinking, "What age will I live to?" I still think that now, as an adult, "Will I see the age of 40? I can't imagine the year 2010,as an example. I'm into Nostradamus, and I do get fairly convinced. It's just the machinations and the way society is at the moment. I don't see much hope sometimes."
If you have listened to much Godflesh music, this sentiment of hopelessness probably doesn't seem out of step with the overall foreboding sentiments of the group's music, written by Broadrick along with long time partner G. Christian Green. Broadrick, however, is a collection of ironies and contradictions, and can't be neatly pegged as a moping peddler of doom, dismay and nihilism. He loves his work and loves his friends.
"Sometimes, I just enjoy life so much, I just think, fuck, why are people destroying themselves? This can't go any longer! I just see how irrational the world is, and you just think, my God, I know people who are completely rational -I am- I can deal with things. Why are people so content with just fucking each other over? It's that simple, sometimes. It's all just down to people. People thinks there's something outside, but it's just down to simple human beings. Ninety percent of the race is just shit. People just want to fuck each other over straight for anything they possibly can."
"I've got a lot of respect for people, for life, my own life, other's life -everything- and I just wish people could be as sensitive as people like myself, or a lot of people I know."
A very optimistic and noble-minded wish, but then there's that 90 percent, you see, that's the problem. It's that 90 percent and the general unpleasentness they cause that emotionally fuels the Birmingham, England-based duo's two new back-to-back releases: the Merciless EP and the Selfless LP.
"Merciless was really us blasting after having a gap, if you know what I mean. We see Merciless as being quite physical, really, it's quite a dark record. Selfless is a lot lighter -not in terms of weight of the sound, just in terms of how oppressive it can be. Selfless is still oppressive, but Merciless is extremely, intentionally, oppressive. We premeditated that as being as strong in that direction as possible."
These double-dutch crunch-fests from Godflesh are also their first releases on Columbia. It seems a bit unlikely that such an unconventional band records for a major conglomerate, as Justin himself says, "I never thought Godflesh would be on a major label. No matter how cynical people choose to be, things have opened up, and people's tastes have widened."
Still, wading through the bureaucracy and complex legal documents that come along with sleeping with the big boys greatly delayed Godflesh from making the music they were anxious to record, hence causing an even greater (even for them) surplus of angst and anxiety which had to be exorcised via Marshall amps and Alesis drum machines.
"That was just the way we felt at the time, really. We'd spent two years doing a lot of things, but having a lot of things fucked up for us. The Columbia deal took ages to come together. Because we hadn't released a record, we were getting quite jaded with modern music anyway. We consider a lot of things to have come quite shitty, quite unlistenable. Merciless was like a battle against that. We wanted to make an oppressive record that almost fucked people off."
Besides causing Godflesh to be even more oppressive (impossible to overuse the "O" word in a G-Flesh story), the Columbia deal afforded Justin and G. the luxury of beefing up their home studio, were all Godflesh's LPs are recorded. Justin describes their workspace as "Just the bare bones. We used to record on really small gear. The album Pure and all the stuff for Slavestate was recorded on a really small 8-track machine -which you can really tell, if you know anything about recording- you can tell it was recorded on a really thin tape. For years, we wanted to build up our own studio, and we're almost there. The Columbia deal just sort of assured we could get everything we wanted; complete control over our sound."
A band like Godflesh's renown, not to mention volume, recording at home on a quiet suburban Birmingham street? I have to ask, "What about neighbours?"
Justin laughs and figures, "We're pretty lucky. On one side there's a 70-year-old woman who's almost completely deaf. In fact, you can hear her TV over the studio sometimes. That's not even because she's figthing with the volume, she's just deaf. The other side we've got a nurse, who is out so regulary, everything seems to coincide quite nicely. This is just like suburbia, but we're getting out of here real soon, and moving to a house in the country It's a completely isolated piece of property, and there's no one around for quite a bit of distance. We can just tear it up all the time. I've been in Birmingham all my life, so I've been dying to get out of the city anyway. But to build a studio in the country is perfect. One of the best things about England is the countryside. It's the single redemption, the best thing England's got. I'm pretty anti-England, anyway."
Initialy tagged as part of the Earache Records-promoted trend known as grindcore, even the most loyal supporters of this hyper-aggro-metallic music wouldn't have imagined Godflesh to ever land in Columbia or be able to buy real estate in the country. But Justin was careful to separate his band from the trendy genre right from the start.
"We knew we were tied inwith a lot of (grindcore), but we were always quite desperate to stay distant, just purely for the fact that is was classified and categorized. With Godflesh, we just wanted to make brutal, heavy music that was pretty much unclassifiable apart from the fact that it was heavy and brutal and emotional. People like to play music by the rules, and we've never read the rulebook. All movements we see as inevitably being doomed, that's the problem; any movement eventually becomes unfashionable and boring and that's the end of the story."
Justin played with proto-grind heroes Napalm Death during their Scum period, when ten second blasts of insanity were titled and passed off songs. It's a long way from that to the 24 minute "Go spread your wings", which brings Selfless to it's grand finale.
"Initially, when we created that track, we were laughing about how it's a Godflesh's rock epic, in the tradition of '70s rock bands. That was a joke really; this is a Led Zeppelin 23 minute song , but in a modern godflesh fashion. I know that sound absolutely stupid, but it's a similar thing. Epic rock tracks: huge, fucking whole-side-of-an-album lenght track. The way we've done it, people will think, "well, hold on, this isn't a rock epic, what is this? It starts off with ambience and almost classical avant-garde overtones, and all this sort of stuff. The subject matter on that, it's almost like a suicide note to some extent."
A 24 minute suicide note? You might not believe me, but Justin was really up throughout the interview, brimming with enthusiasm for his work and, occasionally at least, optimism for us admittedly goofed-up humans.
"I see more hope recently than I did a couple of years ago. I don't know why, because things really are at a low. I can almost see the next ten years to some extent, which is strange. Some people can't -at one time I couldn't. I don't know if I see beyond that, though. I do see something radical, though, I really do. You can just tell,can't you, sometimes? The track 'Toll' on Selfless is really dealing with the extreme-ness of that attitude. When I'm at my most paranoid and my most sensitive, I really do think like, fuck, the turn of the century is going to be the fucking end, basically, and that's it."
I believe it was the revered philosopher Lemmy Kilmister who once said "That's the way I like it baby, I don't want to live forever."I hang up the phone, gaze back out through the cracked glass at the decaying metropolis, crank up "Go spread your wings" on the boom-box, and prepare to party like it's 1999.