Godflesh Is Still Driven by Implosion (and Leonard Cohen Lyrics)
Outside their first Mexico City performance, industrial metal godfathers Justin K. Broadrick and G.C. Green talk icons and influences
In this particular moment in history, Godflesh is at a point where past, present and future are colliding in a way that allows for reflection. Since their formation in 1988, the industrial metal outfit has been an avatar of change for the metal scene. Back then, they introduced sonic elements that were seldom heard during extreme metal's early days. To reclaim the "grinding" part of the grindcore sound, Godflesh they drew on Broadrick's experience playing guitar for an early version of Napalm Death, then incorporated a drum machine and minimal, punishing instrumentation to expand on the vocabulary of the post punk scene. They even went so far as to incorporate key members of bands like Killing Joke, Swans, and Loop at various points of their journey—and what a long, strange journey it's been.
The original incarnation of Godflesh formally split up in 2002, but didn't stay dead for long. After successfully rekindling the original lineup with core members Justin K. Broadrick and G.C. Green in 2010, various tours, festival appearances, and album retrospectives followed. A collection of brand new songs, A World Lit Only By Fire, dropped a little over two years ago, to rapturous acclaim.
Fast-forward to 2016, and the band closed another year of touring with an appearance at Aural/Bestia, a collaboration of two festivals of experimental music in Mexico City. The festival marked the first time Godflesh has played in Mexican soil, playing an intimate yet punishing set at a near capacity Lunario along with avant-death metallers Cleric and Medeski's Simulacrum project. Their setlist that night leaned heavily on their early years, as well as selections from their reunion LP. Along with Godflesh, the festivals played host to an eclectic lineup of artists such as Lee Ranaldo, John Medeski, OOIOO, Joe McPhee, Anna Von Hausswolff, Colin Stetson and Sarah Neufeld.
As Broadrick and Green enter a new cycle in the Godflesh lifespan, they sat down to briefly discuss their time since reforming. Since our conversation took place mere weeks after the passing of Leonard Cohen, it seemed appropriate to talk about the artist who had such presence on their creative output; beginning with the first track of their very first EP, "Avalanche Master Song," which takes its title from two early Leonard Cohen songs; and of course, both their albums Songs of Love and Hate, not to mention a slew of lyrics and allusions that pop up throughout Godflesh's catalogue.
Noisey: You released your comeback album almost two years ago. You had the chance to play it live as well as revisit your old catalogue many times over. Now that you have perspective that time brings, how do you prepare a setlist for a show like today?
G.C. Green: We focus mainly on the old stuff, especially since we've never been here before. We know what [the audience] want to hear. We have a lot of material and we don't have time to play all [of it], so we focus on the early stuff.
Justin Broadrick: It's not physically possible. I couldn't shout for that long, I wish I could. I probably shout so much better now than I could back then; because I was drinking so much alcohol [then], I think I have a much more powerful voice now. We're playing classics, we only play one new song because we want to show people what they have missed. But before that, we have played shows where we have played half of the new album which was really thrilling for us because it was thrilling to have an extremely direct new album. Obviously, a lot of our back catalogue can be seen as quite experimental, there are some ambient overtones, textural overtones. The point of making A World Lit Only By Fire was to make the most direct album we could possibly make at the time.
With the basic elements of what Godflesh is.
Broadrick: Exactly. Fundamentally, it's what Godflesh is all about. The purest form of riff-driven, monolithic Godflesh reduction. The next album will be the opposite. It will be more ambient, experimental, less riff oriented. It should be a very interesting album, the next one. Writing those songs actually felt like there was such built up of years of me personally not being able to express that sort of emotion because I've been doing Jesu for so long, and Jesu obviously is much more measured, somber, non-aggressive project, and Godflesh was always essentially driven... not by aggression but implosion and frustration, really.
Green: We hadn't played together for so long, so when we started playing together, we got to almost rediscover—and I know this sounds almost like a cliché—it was almost like rediscovering the passion, what this was all about, the drive. This is what we have to offer.
Broadrick: People said, 'What inspired you to make a new album?' And often it was because we played so many shows of our old material, and that was inspiration in itself. And since we reformed, we have played songs we have never played [live before]. When we played the whole Streetcleaner album at Roadburn Festival, we played songs we haven't played since 1992, 1993. It was a thrill to play these songs again, we're really proud of these records. We felt like it was a real pleasure to play so many of these songs. In a way that was the inspiration and the foreword for a new album. The old songs and the original influences we had when we formed the band, the post punk stuff. The new album will feature more of the post punk influences that were in Godflesh originally. Early Public Image Ltd…
Broadrick: Definitely, definitely. Always Killing Joke.
Green: You got to have Killing Joke somewhere. Definitely.
A big inspiration for you was Leonard Cohen. Since he died recently, I wanted to ask you about what he meant to you as an artist and influence.
Broadrick: He was a huge influence on Godflesh. Obviously, people always thought, how Leonard Cohen impacted this band, but again, it's the nature of Godflesh not being a singular entity in terms of its scope of influence. Leonard Cohen's songwriting, his voice, his lyrics were so powerful.
Green: I think there was something really honest, open and naked about the guy, emotionally. There's no direct influence—we don't sound like Leonard Cohen—but we got from him an emotional intensity and nakedness. And like anybody passing it's sad but that's life, we all die at the end of the day, but the guy left an amazing legacy.
Broadrick: [2016 was] terrible in terms of icons passing that impacted our music. I mean, it's like... David Bowie had a subliminal influence on all of us in a way, you know what I mean? I was brought up on David Bowie, so for me it was integral…
It's difficult not to be touched by David Bowie.
Broadrick: All the way to Lemmy. Again, Motörhead was like a huge part of... that bass tone alone, it's like a part of everything.
Green: There were one of those bands that were a little bit punk and a little bit metal at the same time. His influence was massive for us.
Broadrick: And Lemmy with Hawkwind was the best incarnation of Hawkwind that ever was. It was untouchable, just beautiful music. And there are so many people, even in experimental music. Pauline Oliveros just died, that's really sad. She's an icon of avant-garde music. It's an endless list of fucking terrible stuff this year. We could speak volumes about Leonard Cohen, obviously; we can stay for hours and talk about how this music impacted us, the emotional impact of music and why. His use of metaphor was really inspirational in an age for me when I didn't really knew how to use metaphor. In a way, lyrically, I more than appropriated Leonard Cohen, it was more like…
Green:...stealing some of his lines [laughs]
Broadrick: I have some songs that are just made of his lyrics. And it was the re-contextualization what was important for me. I mean, I had a Leonard Cohen fan on Twitter bombarding me with hate mail once, saying 'Who the fuck you think you are? Who the fuck are you to take Leonard Cohen? He's a fucking genius and you are a just piece of shit whose history will be completely forgotten.' Obviously, I deleted him but I tweeted back to him, 'You don't get the context?' Godflesh never sounded like Leonard Cohen, he was such a huge influence and yet, we took his lyrics, but you're missing the re-contextualization.
Marcos Hassan is hunting for context on Twitter.
Cover photo courtesy of Godflesh