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Quite Annihilating: A Chat with Justin Broadrick of Godflesh

Photo by Kevin Laska

I hate flies. To me, they are the animal kingdom’s answer to zombies, mindless consumers that want nothing more than to breed among piles of refuse, decay, and the bodies of the dead. They’re nature’s mindless id incarnate. I despise them.

Justin Broadrick of Godflesh may be amiable, self-aware, funny, and one of the coolest musicians you’ll ever talk to, but he will kill a fly. Midway through our interview, Broadrick, who is one half of industrial metal’s most intimidating band, goes after a fly buzzing around his room. “I fucking can’t stand the bastards,” he says. “I have a bat in my office with a battery in it, and I corner the fuckers on the window and zap them!” We talk about flies as a metaphor for man, a concept that fits well with Godflesh. The duo’s inimitable brand of bleak, punishing electronic metal has long been the favorite music of misanthropes worldwide, who easily relate to the idea of humanity as the cheapest of insects. And now, thirteen years after the release of their last full-length record, those fans’ appetites will be sated once more. Godflesh are returning with a new studio album entitled A World Lit Only By Fire which is just as brutal and perfectly representative of the band as its title suggests.

But back to Justin Broadrick, a total mensch who is getting ready to head to his mother-in-law’s birthday dinner after this interview. When I contact him on Skype, the guitarist recognizes my voice from the interview Wyatt Marshall and I did with him after the debut show of Godflesh’s last US tour.

— Scab Casserole

When we interviewed you after that kick-off concert, we were totally ready for you to bail on us. It would’ve been totally acceptable for you to say, Look guys, it’s the first show of the tour, we’re exhausted.

We were actually really thrilled, because Godflesh hadn’t played New York in so long. I mean, we were exhausted, blah blah blah, but we were just running on adrenaline, you know? We were feeling so enthusiastic.

Most bands come off of a show and they’re all caught up in the exhaustion or the turmoil of playing aggressive music, but you guys just seemed so happy to be back.

As a lot of people can tell you, we don’t wear our art on our sleeves. As social human beings, we’re very easy, positive, enthusiastic people. The music does everything we need. We don’t need to be negative, cynical, jaded, miserable, arrogant.

It’s so refreshing to hear that. So many musicians use interviews to make sure how everyone knows how truly tortured they are.

That makes us laugh, to be perfectly honest. Because we feel it’s really unnecessary. Our music, our art, is tortured and painful enough. And honestly we don’t really get on with those who feel the need to be those people. Socially, we don’t communicate with people who take themselves that seriously outside of their art.

With a live show, is there that feeling of an exorcism? Like, do you go onstage in an intense state of mind and then purge it, or is it more an ability to tap into that mindset?

It’s probably [the latter]. It’s not entirely cathartic. It is a release, but it’s never released. It’s more a way of dealing with it—writing the music, recording it, and playing it live. I’ve often explained to people that it’s like therapy. Rather than sitting on a couch with a guy or lady warbling about the ills in my life, I can pick up a guitar. I have the luxury of being able to express the pain, the frustration, the anger, the whole gamut of negative emotions. And it is a luxury. I’m very humbled by it. For us to have people refer to us as legends or to have a legacy, or for so many people to like our music, it’s endearing. Because we’re not even involved in a lifestyle or a scene. We’re quite isolated. How can we not be enthusiastic about it? But yeah, it’s definitely a…zone? The person I am onstage is not the person I am socially, or the person who’s speaking to you now, or the person who looks after my son or spends time with my partner. Or goes to dinner at my mum-in-law’s birthday party! I don’t take that guy with me. He only performs or writes the music, and that’s it. A performance, for me, is a cleansing. It’s very therapeutic, but it’s not cathartic, because that would mean that it’s over. For me, it’s never over.

Seeing you live and then speaking to you afterwards, there was no sense that the magic was lost by you being a nice, relatable person. The stage show really spoke for itself, if you ask me.

Unfortunately, I have met the odd person who, speaking to us, said, ‘I’m a little disappointed that that’s how you guys are.’ And we say, ‘Huh? But did you enjoy the performance?’ That is how we deal. If we were those monsters in our day-to-day existence, there’d be no release, then. I don’t understand why people would want to meet the beast!

On the subject of expressing different emotions at different times: this year, you released the four-song Decline & Fall EP, and later you’ll be releasing the new full-length, A World Lit Only By Fire. They’re both significant releases, and both very much Godflesh, but each has a very unique tone to it. What two different parts of you are you trying to express with each of them?

The EP is really born from the album. All the songs that’re on the EP, or at least two of them, were going to be on the album, but we had too many songs, and I liked the feeling of the album with the ten songs as is. I didn’t want to turn it into a 12-song album and make it go over an hour. The album’s very singular, I feel. The EP’s got a bit more color to it. It’s a bit more dynamic. But it’s still, essentially, the voice of Godflesh. The EP’s a bit more psychedelic, I think. It’s a bit more post-punk. While the album is very much what Godflesh is right now. But both albums are both unified in the same form of expression. But the album is quite annihilating. Quite devastating.

When we talked in New York, it seemed like the album was finished. What was it like to have the album finished by April and have to wait to release it? Did you ever get the itch to go back and fiddle with it?

Thank fuck not. Seriously, we were so lucky. With the album, it was a long time writing it, not so long recording it but enough, mixing it . . . I went through a variety of productions and then came back full circle to the original mixes, and when I came back to them I really knew that this was as good as it was going to get. I did feel like I couldn’t do any better than this. And I still feel that now. And thank fuck. Because in the past, that happened frequently. Really, the technology is so advanced these days that it’s really streamlined. You can afford the luxury of trying many productions, where as in the past, the only option you had was just trying to get the best sound you could. For now, this record is exactly how we wish it to sound.

It’s a beautiful-sounding record. It’s so full and lush—the guitar sound specifically sounds amazing, as opposed to on some older industrial records, where there’s a kind of chalkiness going on.

Yeah, absolutely. What Godflesh really wanted to do with this album is capture the live sound. And I think that used to disappoint us. A lot of people viewed industrial, and industrial metal, as something that should be very trebly and thin. But whenever we played live in the ’80s and ’90s, it was always big. It was always huge. The heavy drum machine. The bass always had lots of weight. But it was always hard to capture that in the studio. Unfortunately as time went on, we didn’t capture it. But I think this record really captures that weight of our live performance. We wanted to prove that that music can sound that huge on an album. And that clear. We wanted it to sound clear, but also be very fucking heavy. Utterly brutal, but everything is present. There’s a warmth, there’s a presence, but it will still hit you in the guts.

A World Lit Only By Fire drops via Avalanche Recordings on October 7.

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