The band signed to Earache Records in the late 1980s and released their influential debut album, Streetcleaner (1989), to critical acclaim. After the release of Pure (1992) and their major label debut Selfless (1994), they started experimenting with live drums, as well as with hip hop and breakbeat sounds. The resulting albums, Songs of Love and Hate (1996) and Us and Them (1999), were followed by Hymns (2001), which saw a simplification of the band's sound. Shortly after Green's departure in 2002, Broadrick ended Godflesh and pursued various other projects, including Jesu. Broadrick and Green reformed Godflesh in 2010, releasing A World Lit Only by Fire (2014) and Post Self (2017) to critical acclaim.
As pioneers of industrial metal, Godflesh's early sound was defined by harsh machine beats, production-emphasised bass, distorted guitar and sparse vocals delivered in a low, guttural fashion. The band performed for most of their career as a duo with Broadrick and Green playing over preprogrammed percussion, normally to a backdrop of apocalyptic scenes and Christian iconography. Godflesh's music has been regarded as especially heavy and grim, with Streetcleaner being named by several publications as one of the heaviest and greatest metal albums.[b]
The Mermaid, site of Fall of Because's first concert with Broadrick
Fall of Because, the band that would eventually become Godflesh, formed in 1982 when G. C. Green and Paul Neville, two young musicians living in cheap council estate housing in east Birmingham, started experimenting musically alongside a drum machine. Fall of Because, named after a Killing Jokesong and a chapter from an Aleister Crowley book, found a live drummer when Justin Broadrick, who lived in the same council housing as Green and Neville, joined the group in 1984 after organising a concert at The Mermaid in Birmingham. At that show, Fall of Because, Final (Broadrick's first musical act) and an early incarnation of Napalm Death performed to a crowd of twenty-five people. In the months following that concert, Broadrick joined Napalm Death as a guitarist and Fall of Because as a drummer and altered the latter's sound by introducing albums from Swans, Sonic Youth and Discharge to Green and Neville. Only fifteen at the time, Broadrick said he "usurped" their band.
Fall of Because recorded a demo titled Extirpate in 1986, which contained several tracks that would become Godflesh's songs. Due to these recordings not being widely available until 1999, they were retrospectively recognised as "eerily" ahead of their time by Exclaim!. Later in 1986, Broadrick was invited to play drums for Head of David, leading to his departure from Napalm Death and soon after from Fall of Because in 1987. Then, in March 1988, he left Head of David for being, according to Broadrick, "too noisy of a drummer", and contacted Green in April to reform Fall of Because as a duo. In that reformation, Broadrick took over on guitar and the band went back to employing a drum machine for percussion. It was then that the group was renamed Godflesh. Broadrick explained the new name by saying, "I heard someone once say that music is the voice of God. The word 'God' conjures something immense and inconceivable. The 'flesh' part is what effects you on a physical level. Our music is loud and destructive."
Self-titled EP, Streetcleaner and Pure (1988–1993)
Shortly after the Godflesh release, the band recorded another EP titled Tiny Tears comprising four short, rough songs. Before Swordfish could release this EP, though, Godflesh were acquired by Earache Records, and the label's founder, Digby Pearson, convinced Broadrick and Green to shelve Tiny Tears and use the songs as bonus tracks on their first full-length album. The band agreed, and in 1989 they released Streetcleaner, which went on to receive critical acclaim and recognition as a landmark album in heavy metal music.[b]Streetcleaner saw the reintroduction of Neville into the band, this time as the second guitarist, and it marked the band's first release of many on Earache. The album further defined Godflesh's sound, standing out from other metal releases with unusual production that emphasised mechanical beats and percussive bass over guitar.Streetcleaner is regarded as particularly heavy and bleak.[b]
From February to March 1991, Godflesh were again in the studio, recording the Slavestate EP, which saw the band experimenting with dance and more electronic elements. Later that year in April, Godflesh embarked on their first tour of North America (a leg of Earache's Grindcrusher tour) with labelmates Nocturnus and Napalm Death. According to Mike Browning of Nocturnus, most of the shows of the 45-day tour were attended by 200 to 300 people. Godflesh missed the first concert due to permit issues, but they made it to the second date at the L'Amour in Brooklyn. The venue was full, and when Godflesh took the stage, their drum machine failed and the band could not continue. When a replacement machine was eventually found, Broadrick and Green hastily programmed in four songs to be ready for the tour's third show at the Channel in Boston. Despite these initial difficulties, the rest of the tour went well and Godflesh drew surprisingly positive reception.Slavestate was released in July after Grindcrusher had concluded. In August and October of 1991, both Broadrick and Green guested on Buried Secrets (1992), an EP by Painkiller.
With the successes of Streetcleaner, Slavestate, a concert opening for Nirvana and the Grindcrusher tour, Godflesh started on their second album, this time without Neville, who chose to focus on his other project, Cable Regime, which featured Broadrick as a recurring producer. To fill the void, Robert Hampson of Loop was brought in to play on half of the new album's tracks as well as on Cold World (1991), an EP recorded in the same sessions. The sophomore album, Pure, was released in 1992 through Earache and has since been recognised as an influential release in the post-metal genre. Musically, Pure was even more mechanical than Streetcleaner, further emphasising the drum machine and featuring production that augmented the percussion with a stark, bleak atmosphere. Though Godflesh's most overt experiments with hip hop and breakbeats occurred later in their career,Pure featured elements of both buried under the wailing guitar, shouted vocals and aggressively repetitive drumming. The album continued its experimentation with atypical song structures on its conclusion, "Pure II", a twenty-minute ambient drone piece with a submerged beat that, as AllMusic's Ned Raggett said, "hits like a distant cannon".
Despite Broadrick's dissatisfaction with the mixing on Pure being "not heavy enough", many critics regarded the album as unrelenting; in a positive review, Spin's Mike Gitter wrote that "Hiroshima was probably more fun [than Pure]". In support of the album, Godflesh planned to open for Ministry on another tour of North America, but instead ended up opening for the electro-industrial band Skinny Puppy on their Last Rights (1992) tour. Due again to issues with entering the United States, Godflesh were forced to cancel a number of these dates; they later returned to those markets as headliners to make the missed shows up. Broadrick retrospectively said that this era of the band stands as "the most honest representation of what Godflesh set out to achieve."
Selfless, Songs of Love and Hate and Us and Them (1994–2000)
Godflesh performing live in 1996
After a year of minimal activity in 1993, Godflesh were approached by several record labels. According to Broadrick, Danny Goldberg of Atlantic Records invited them to London and expressed his desire to acquire the band. About this period, Broadrick said, "They really thought that Godflesh could be the next Nine Inch Nails and that we would be selling out fucking stadiums. The buzz at the time was ridiculous. It outweighed the sales, obviously. It was all hype." Ultimately, the band ended up with major record label Columbia for the release of the EP Merciless in 1994, the title track of which was originally a Fall of Because song. Another EP, Messiah was recorded during these sessions, but it was not released on a wide scale until 2003 through Relapse Records. Later in 1994, the band released their third album, Selfless, which represented a shift in the group to a more high-end production approach and to a greater focus on traditional heavy metal riffs. Despite being the band's best-selling record with approximately 180,000 copies shipped, Selfless was deemed a commercial disappointment. This coupled with the ban of Godflesh's first major music video led to the end of their collaboration with Columbia.
Feeling abandoned after being abruptly dropped by Columbia, Godflesh were briefly directionless in 1995. In 1996, the band returned to Earache and created their fourth studio album, Songs of Love and Hate, which was Godflesh's first music made with a human drummer since the early Fall of Because days;Bryan Mantia of Praxis provided the aggressive, non-mechanical drumming. In retrospect, Broadrick believed Songs of Love and Hate marked the point where Godflesh lost sight of their original goal and started making "self-conscious" music. When it came time for the album's 1996 tour, Mantia made the move to join Primus, and Godflesh recruited Ted Parsons of Prong and Swans to perform on the tour in his place. Along with the album's follow-up remix release, Love and Hate in Dub (1997), Songs of Love and Hate moved away from Godflesh's industrial roots into experimentation with conventional verse-chorus format, hip hop, dub and drum and bass. The remix album was supported by a one-off concert on 4 October 1997 at The Garage, London where Broadrick operated a mixing desk, Steve Hough played guitar, Green played bass and Diarmuid Dalton provided support on a Moog synthesiser.
This experimentation continued and increased with Godflesh's next album, Us and Them (1999). While live drumming was dropped again in favour of percussive machines, Us and Them saw the group going further with electronics and drum-and-bass-oriented sound than ever before. Broadrick was quick to admit that he "hated" the album and that it was an "identity crisis". Retrospectively, though, he revised his thoughts, saying that his hatred was overstated despite him still having issues with the album. Shortly after releasing Us and Them in 1999, Godflesh began work on a proposed remix album, Us and Them in Dub. While this album was never released, two tracks from it appeared on the 2001 compilation In All Languages. Also in 1999, Life Is Easy, an album compiling Godflesh's recordings as Fall of Because, was released on the Alleysweeper label and distributed via Martin Atkins' Invisible Records label.
Hymns and dissolution (2001–2002)
Following the release of the double album compilation In All Languages, Godflesh released their sixth studio album, Hymns (2001) through several different labels. The album again saw Godflesh with a human drummer; Parsons returned to provide the live percussion and, according to Broadrick, the inspiration for Godflesh to continue.Hymns marked a dramatic shift away from Godflesh's recent experimentation, moving instead into the realm of direct heavy metal, with only a few tracks revealing hip hop or electronic influence; Broadrick wanted Hymns to be more of a rock album than any other Godflesh releases. The album was recorded in a professional studio and a producer outside of the band was brought in to oversee the process, two firsts for Godflesh that Parsons believed to be mistakes. Despite receiving positive reviews, the final product of Hymns was ultimately dissatisfying for Broadrick, so much so that he restored it to a state resembling its demos on the 2013 reissue. With the band disheartened by Hymns' troubled production and dreading an upcoming tour, the direct future of Godflesh was unclear.
In October 2001, the same month Hymns was released, Broadrick received a call from Green just two weeks before Godflesh were set to tour with Strapping Young Lad and Fear Factory. Over the phone, Green expressed frustration at having to open for young bands despite being in the business since 1982, as well as being forced into a tour for an album that was manipulated from the outside. Green tearfully left Godflesh to return to university and focus on his relationship with his partner. To cope with the departure of his friend, Broadrick devoted all of his effort to maintaining the band. It was quickly announced that Green would be replaced by former Killing Joke and Prong bassist Paul Raven. Though this configuration of Godflesh came up with some ideas for another studio album (namely the usage of a rhythm from Public Enemy's "Shut 'Em Down"), Broadrick was "always aware that a new album was never going to happen". Not long after this short-lived incarnation of Godflesh performed a handful of shows that Broadrick later said "felt completely wrong", he experienced a nervous breakdown the day before departing for another tour of North America, this time with High on Fire and Isis. He recalled the breakdown as a "real Brian Wilson moment" and said, "I felt paralyzed by the stress, which had been building for several months, and I literally couldn't get out of bed. I was numb and couldn't move, so when the car came to pick me up to take me to the airport, I ran and hid at another friend's house in Birmingham." All of the shows were called off, and Godflesh officially disbanded on 10 April 2002.
The cancelled tour caused a number of problems for Broadrick; his thirteen-year relationship with his girlfriend dissolved, and a bus driver who had been hired for the tour threatened his life. In a panic, Broadrick remortgaged his house and amassed approximately US$35,000 to pay the driver and everyone else who had been affected by the cancellation. Broadrick, at a low point in his life, was left with little to do but work on new, different music. About the period, he said, "My only solace, my only escape at that time was recording the first Jesu album." "Jesu", the closing track of Hymns and, until 2014, the last original Godflesh song, ended with a hidden passage of unusual peacefulness and melodicism. Broadrick's next project, bearing the same title of Jesu, adopted that shoegaze sound and the new band's first EP, Heart Ache, was released in 2004. On promotional material for Heart Ache, a message from Broadrick read, "Godflesh is dead, long live Jesu."
Godflesh performing reunion concerts
After Godflesh's dissolution, Broadrick and Green rarely spoke. Though there was no falling out between the two members, Broadrick assumed the project permanently dead, believing that Green's interest in it was gone. Regardless, Broadrick decided in 2009 to approach Green with an offer to reform, something that promoters had been pushing for years. Green responded to Broadrick's call within a few hours, saying he would love to do it. Both members quickly agreed that the most important thing for the reunion's integrity was that they return to a drum machine for percussion. In November 2009, the reunion was made public when Godflesh announced they would perform at the 2010 edition of the Hellfest Summer Open Air in Clisson, France. Asked in a February 2010 interview about Godflesh's future, Broadrick replied, "Godflesh will not commit to anything but Hellfest currently. I am unsure as to where we will go from there, if we go anywhere at all." He also revealed that the likelihood of new material was "fairly minimal", but that the possibility still existed; though later, in 2014, he insisted that "ultimately, the whole reformation thing was pretty much fundamentally about wanting to make new music". On 18 June 2010, Godflesh performed for their first time since 2001 at Hellfest. The show was fraught with technical difficulties, ending up as a forty-minute set instead of the intended sixty minutes. Despite the frustration of the return performance, Godflesh continued to play festivals throughout 2010 and 2011, including the 2011 edition of the Roadburn festival in Tilburg, Netherlands, where they performed their first album, Streetcleaner, in its entirety. This performance was later released as the group's first live album in 2013.
In December 2010, Broadrick revealed to Decibel magazine that Godflesh were gradually assembling new ideas for a studio album. He explained, "It's something we're discussing all the time, and I do have bits and pieces of material. But it's something we'd really like to develop. It'd be quite easy to knock out eight to ten in-character songs and release it as quickly as possible to capitalise on the popularity of the group, but it would feel entirely wrong." In 2011, Godflesh (along with Black Sabbath, Napalm Death, Judas Priest and Led Zeppelin) were recognised by the UK-based Home of Metal archival project as significant contributors to the heavy metal genre. With this accolade absorbed, Broadrick continued to confirm the existence of a new Godflesh album throughout 2012, saying it would most likely be out in 2013 after a new EP. In 2013, Godflesh released their first new recording in over twelve years, a cover of Slaughter's "F.O.D. (Fuck of Death)", through Decibel magazine's flexi disc Series. The flexi disc was included in the November 2013 issue of Decibel. Later in 2013, Godflesh performed Pure in its entirety at Roadburn, featuring Hampson on guitar for part of the set. In 2014, Broadrick said that disbanding Godflesh was the best thing they had ever done and stated that the upcoming album was his favourite since 1994's Selfless.
A World Lit Only by Fire and Post Self (2014–present)
From 2012 to 2014, Godflesh were in Broadrick's private studio, working on their seventh album. The process was slow due to Broadrick's commitment to making a proper Godflesh album instead of a hollow exploitation of the reformation's media attention. After a long revision process, the 2014 EP Decline & Fall and the 2014 album A World Lit Only by Fire came out of those sessions, both of which featured Broadrick on an eight-string guitar. The album was the band's first to chart in the U.S., and it was met with critical acclaim, drawing praise for its extreme weight and being lauded as the ideal return for Godflesh. Musically, Broadrick stated A World Lit Only by Fire was most similar to Streetcleaner and Pure, and Green added that it was "spiritually" close to those first few releases. About the album's sound, Broadrick said, "It's extremely minimal and very, very brutal — a fairly unforgiving record, really, I think."Decline & Fall and A World Lit Only by Fire were heavy, distorted, riff-driven industrial releases that Broadrick saw as a return to the direct simplicity of Godflesh's original form. All of the recording, engineering, artwork and packaging was done by Godflesh through Broadrick's own label, Avalanche Recordings.
Following a number of tours in support of A World Lit Only by Fire and a failed attempt at an In Dub remix release with Parsons providing additional drumming, Godflesh returned to the studio in 2016 for a new album.Post Self, the band's eighth studio album, was released on 17 November 2017, shortly after another performance of Streetcleaner in its entirety. Unlike A World Lit Only by Fire's focus on making a bombastic comeback, Post Self proved more introspective and moody. Most of the traditional metal riffs were dropped in favour of atmosphere, noise and experimentation.Post Self received similar high praise as its predecessor, and both appeared on several publications' year-end lists. After the release of Post Self, Broadrick avoided interviews, hoping to give listeners time to form their own opinions on the music and to retain some of the album's "mystique". Godflesh embarked on a few brief tours and played scattered festivals, including the 2018 edition of Roadburn where they performed all of Selfless live for the first time. Broadrick spent a month reprogramming the album's percussion from scratch since the original drum parts no longer existed. In an interview with French magazine New Noise, Broadrick said that Selfless was the last Godflesh album he wanted to play in its entirety.