Godflesh's Justin Broadrick: my life in 10 songs

Justin Broadrick
(Image credit: Justin Broadrick/Press)

An early member of Napalm Death before striking out to become an industrial metal pioneer with the likes of Godflesh, Head Of David and countless other projects, Justin Broadrick  has spent over 35 years forging a diverse career as one of metal's- and electronica's -  most underrated musicians. 

With Godflesh back on the scene and playing live in London this week, we asked Justin to pick out the ten songs that have most defined his life in music. These were his picks...

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1. Napalm Death - Scum (Scum, 1987)

"Probably the best song I wrote in Napalm Death. The music that is; the lyrics are all Nic Bullen’s, apart from one song on the A-side of Scum. I remember us being a laughing stock for most at first pre-Scum, but this was one of the first songs where I vividly recall people responding with jaws open. One of my best set of riffs of the time is on the A-side of Scum, and it’s structured well for a streamlined attack, of course inspired by Celtic Frost. We were very young, so this concept of crossing the aggro blast beats of  Siege with early Celtic Frost/Hellhammer was somewhat literal!

But, there was so much more to the Napalm Death. The two demos we did prior, one without Mick Harris, but with the original drummer Rat (Miles Ratledge) were wider in scope, as informed by Killing Joke/Amebix/Throbbing Gristle/Swans as much as the burgeoning thrash/metal and punk scenes of the time, and Scum still had this melting pot context. Nic and I were obsessed with noise music; power electronics/industrial music, the noise on Scum was intentional and considered. 

One fact often overlooked here is that we were so young; I was 16 when i was writing the music for the A side of Scum, some songs were written at 15 years old! I really would not have had a career in music if it wasn’t for John Peel being a fan of both Napalm Death and Head Of David and to this day I am extremely proud of what we achieved with the A-Side of Scum, but ironically my favourite Napalm Death music is without me. It’s their first John Peel session, an absolute favourite of mine!"

2. Godflesh - Like Rats (Streetcleaner, 1989)

"For some, the only Godflesh song they know. Of course we’re somewhat defined by it, and it’s a strange concoction of mechanised 80’s industrial hell, but with guitars. It was the first time I really used pitch shifted vocals, which I wasn’t aware of nearly anyone using at that time, and for me that decision was directly influenced by Pinhead in Hellraiser, with of course a little Darth Vader, one of my childhood heroes. 

The main chorus line was lifted from the US no wave band No Trend, on their incredible track Too Many Humans. Totally nihilistic hatred of self and all; I wrote this song at the age of just 19 in early 1989, which may give some an idea of where i was at as a teenager! 

But this song, in many ways, was a convergence of what I was trying to achieve at that time with Godflesh by hybridising primal metal with punk/post-punk/no wave and industrial music, which we filtered through a wave of filth and low tuned guitar/bass. Even the drum machine was layered and tuned down….that aspect was informed by 80’s hip hop - heavy as fuck drum machines!"

3. Jesu - Tired Of Me (Jesu, 2003)

"Written and recorded whilst going through both the break up of Godflesh and with a long standing partner at the time. I was literally very, very tired of me, and my responses in that period; I’d given up many times, as I do often.

This song painfully documents that period very well, and is one of my most favourite songs I ever wrote. The first Jesu album documented longterm pain on a emotional and cerebral level; I was 'waking up' more around that time, to myself and those around me, hitting my early 30s, questioning 'why?' on every level and never getting any answers, constantly suffering emotional and sensory overload, and not understanding why. 

A lot of my music and lyrics are autobiographical; it's my way of trying to understand what can’t be understood, and attempting to translate and convey the sense of being overwhelmed that I’ve always been suffocated by and felt very alone in. I only have some comprehension of why now, due to the fact that I recently was diagnosed as autistic, so I’m learning now that nearly all of my art has been informed by my condition, and this song displays some aspects quite well; overwhelmed and defeated…"

4. Head Of David - Dog Day Sunrise (Dustbowl, 1988)

"Head Of David is one of my favourite bands of all time; Ben Green (Godflesh) and I often discuss how they should’ve been one of the biggest alternative rock bands of all time, but for many reasons it imploded. 

The best album they made was their first one, it was without me, and it’s all the better for it haha. But, when i joined, we made a great album - Dustbowl, and this is one of the best songs that we wrote for the album. It was quite fantastic that it became eventually recognised thanks to Fear Factory covering it."

5. Techno Animal - Cruise Mode 101 feat. Rubberoom (The Brotherhood of The Bomb, 2001)

"We suffered terrible timing with this album. Maybe it could’ve had a better chance with exposure if it wasn’t called Brotherhood Of The Bomb’ (which we took from the 2nd Planet Of The Apes movie where they find that the apes are worshipping a nuclear bomb - amazing). Its release date coincided with the horror that was 9/11.

But, this song particularly distills what Kevin and I were attempting to do at the time; heavy as all hell hip-hop with the excesses of 90s drum n bass and the no-nonsense approach of industrial music from the 80s, coupled with the energy of the rappers from RUBBERROOM who at the time had this crazy Public Enemy gone mental x 100 thing going on.

This track is pure energy and one of the best we ever did under this project. Thankfully Relapse records are fully behind a re-release programme of all our Techno-Animal releases that we see fit to be reissued; they’re now remastered and in finishing stages of the art etc…

6. Final - My Body Is A Dying Machine (My Body Is A Dying Machine, 2010)

"Little known undoubtedly, but that doesn’t matter of course; it’s one of my favourite pieces of music i’ve ever written and performing  it live and very loud was always transcendental for me; the pain would be alleviated through joy. It’s surprising what a sample of The Monkees can achieve emotionally once chopped and pitched and myriad other treatments applied, coupled with simplistic soaring guitars. 

It was also a musical record of my own body breaking down at the time due to too much sustained alcohol abuse; my body was finally rejecting it and warning me to stop the abuse….Final is, loosely speaking, an ambient music project, often ignored in the grand scheme of my things, but it’s the first music I made, around 1984, as a kid and it began as power electronic/industrial music with a dear old friend of mine Andy Swan. Even Nic Bullen was in there in the early days! 

It eventually became a solo project for me that was shelved in the mid 80s but reborn in the early 90s, and has existed ever since. Fortunately my latest music from this project has garnered attention of late, so I’m lucky now that people are beginning to listen in slightly larger numbers. Those interested should check this song out, but also the latest releases It Comes To Us All andExpect Nothing And The Kingdom Is Yours."

7. JK Flesh - In Your Pit (In Your Pit, 2009)

"I have released a lot of music as JK Flesh, it's essentially a vehicle for totally electronic heavy rhythm oriented music. It started off more industrial and eventually morphed into a form of techno that is informed by dub, noise, drum n bass and all between. 

This track embodies heavy in the context of techno, then slows it right down, until it becomes what I term ‘dread techno’ - techno in slow motion, but minimal and fierce driven by bass overload and rhythmically pulsed by sludgy 4/4. for the uninitiated, or those not well versed in ‘heavy’ electronic/techno oriented music, this is to techno what doom is to metal; slowed down, pitched down, ultra heavy and sluggish…"

8. Zonal - In A Cage (feat. Moor Mother) (Wrecked, 2019)

"A contemporary representation of where Kevin Martin and I are at since we folded Techno Animal, and featuring the wonderful abundant talents of Moor Mother/Camae Ayewa. 

A new project from us in many regards, this track is most likely a springboard for where we will go in the future with this project; sluggish slo-mo hip-hop; heavy and crushed, with crystalline alien melodies atop; minimal/maximal…"

9. God - Tunnel (The Anatomy Of Addiction, 1994)

"Beautiful song, and I simply play guitar on it. Not my song nor my band, but my old friend Kevin Martin, who is known as The Bug, and my partner in crime in both Techno Animal and Zonal, ran this 9-piece band God that started back in the 80s. Kevin plays a mean sax besides screaming his guts out in God and had amassed a stellar collection of members from a variety of backgrounds; noise rock to free jazz, the vision for this project was wild

I co-produced their first EP when I didn’t know what the fuck I was doing at about 20 years old, but i tried... When Kevin asked me to play guitar on the albums I was honoured to bring my thing to the table and this track is my personal favourite from my time in the band."

10. Pale Sketcher - Heartbeat (Unreleased, 2022)

"Not released as I write this, but forthcoming this year. I’ve sat on this track for around 10 years; it should’ve came out on Rephlex Records, the label from Richard James/Aphex Twin, around 2013; I was sending him tracks that he was going to compile into a release and this was one of my favourites. 

But Richard and his label partner Grant shelved Rephlex indefinitely midway through the compiling process. I then gave up a little myself and, somewhat deflated, I shelved all this material until now, where it has a new home. Transcendental melancholic electronica, very out there somewhere…

Another project of mine, another vehicle for some other shade of grey. This list is far from set in stone, another month it would be mostly different I imagine!"

Godflesh play 229 in London on September 9 and 10. 

Rich Hobson

Staff writer for Metal Hammer, Rich has never met a feature he didn't fancy, which is just as well when it comes to covering everything rock, punk and metal for both print and online, be it legendary events like Rock In Rio or Clash Of The Titans or seeking out exciting new bands like Nine Treasures, Jinjer and Sleep Token.