It would be easy to write a biography of Justin Broadrick here. That’s not really my aim, so perhaps the best thing I can do is send you here to check out the insanely long list of records he’s put out since the early eighties and let you dig around the internet to your heart’s content in search of more info.
What this is about is Subsonic 3: Skinner’s Black Laboratories. [Note: I covered how I came across this record in the last entry.]
This album brings together Broadrick and Andy Hawkins from Blind Idiot God‘s ‘Azonic‘ project. As on the majority of Subsonic albums the two don’t collaborate. In this case however, this probably for the best. Both guitarists have very different styles and Broadrick’s sparser playing on this record might not blend well with Hawkins’ huge washes of sound. This incidental segregation of the two artists also makes this record one of the most diverse and exciting of the series.
Skinner’s Black Laboratories was recorded in 1995 at the mid-point of the career of Godflesh, Broadrick’s uncompromisingly heavy and bleak project that may still be what he’s best known for. Since then he’s done an awful lot more (go back up to the top and look at that discography) including Jesu, the band where he’d finally master blending his pop influences with the crushing riffs that he’s so adept at churning out.
But it’s the essence of Final, yet another Broadrick project (and possibly his longest running) that is most evident on this CD. This is by no means as uncompromising and drone-based, but the spirit is very similar – lengthy solo tracks where the only accompaniment is the loops he creates himself. The track titles are a dead giveaway too; Guitar One, Two, Three and, most tellingly, Four/Infinite. The lack of more creative song titles totally fits the minimal Final aesthetic.
The music on display here is really varied. ‘One’ fades in incredibly slowly until that famous Broadrick guitar tone comes to the fore. It’s perhaps less distorted and aggressive than usual, but you can still tell that the inorganic, curiously boxy, sound is him. He builds up more and more rhythm but never loses the space in the music.
‘Two’ is simply one of the prettiest songs I’ve ever heard, the naked guitar chimes and it builds into one of the most hopeful pieces Broadrick has ever put out. Years ago I played this to a friend whose room I was crashing in for the night. We lay in our beds, somewhat wasted, talking nonsense. Five minutes into the song he broke the long gap in conversation that had developed without either of us noticing with a simple ‘this is beautiful’, and it is.
‘Three’ fares less well. It’s a scratchy, broken affair that brings to mind the old dial-up tone that nobody in the developed world hears any more. Proceedings are saved by the lovely final track that brings back the bell-like tones from ‘Two’. The song feels a lot more shy. There’s real discipline on show here. The use of space and cathedral-style reverb is perfect. Many lesser musicians (myself included) would have just let the song turn into an over-the-top mess.
It leads wonderfully into ‘River Blindness’ – not only the first song on the record to be dignified with a real title – but also the first track from Andy Hawkins the guitarist with odd noise rock/dub band Blind Idiot God. There are definite hints of that band in his playing here, but the rhythm section has been dispensed with and replaced by more and more guitar. Hawkins only released one other recording as Azonic and although they were put to tape a year apart, the sound is near enough identical.
Hawkins has a HUGE sound. It’s smothered in stereo effects run into at least two amps. The most remarkable thing is the lack of attack, it’s almost as if the chords blend between each other, he must be using some sort of sustainer pickup as I can’t for the life of me replicate it.
On ‘River Blindness’ his guitar screams, roars, throbs, shreds (if only for a moment) and sometimes it just rumbles. Fans of rhythm needn’t cry though as tablas emerge from within the dirge too.
His other track ‘Nine Tails’ follows a similar vein. The guitar’s whammy bar gets a proper shoeing here, the already detuned strings rattle against the fretboard before being yanked back up to pitch time and time again.
Hawkins really throws down the heaviness gauntlet on these tracks. Enough to claim the ‘Heaviest of the Entire Subsonic Series’ title?
This is a stunning record, one which fans of experimental guitar should definitely seek out. There’s so much depth and range. Of course, you can listen to all of the songs on YouTube, but it really benefits from a full, uninterrupted, listen.
Thanks for reading.