Q: What's the latest poop on Skullflower?
Guitarist Matthew Bower revived it as a mostly solo vehicle in 2003 with the release of EXQUISITE FUCKING BOREDOM on tUMULt. He continues to carry on with the name, releasing material on Crucial Blast and other labels. See the Skullflower discography for the latest releases. He also records under the names Hototogisu (vaguely psych-oriented noise) and Mirag (vaguely black-metal noise).
Q: Okay, so what the hell is Skullflower in the first place?
One of the better-known noise-rock bands from the UK who came into being during the mid-eighties, when punk was splintering off into noise and industrial sounds. All of the original members of Skullflower were originally involved in other bands of that era and toured / collaborated / hung out with members of bands like Whitehouse, Godflesh, Ramleh, The Grey Wolves, Satori, Controlled Bleeding, etc. The main thing separating Skullflower from many of the bands around them was their preference for more traditional instruments (no damaged synths, minimal use of tapes, just guitars and drums); they preferred to employ massive volume and tenuous, near-formless structures still loosely tied to rock. Unlike most UK bands of the time, they also had no real political agenda (possibly because that had already caused enough trouble for Ramleh guitarist Gary Mundy, a frequent player in Skullflower), and were aligned with the improv scene just as much as the noise and power-electronics scene.
Q: So why should I care about Skullflower?
Well, outside of the immense swellness of their recorded output, a few other reasons for your consideration:
Q: Okay, I'm sold on their brilliance. So where do I start?
Right now most of Skullflower's early material is out of print and hard to find, and there have been several distinct lineups of Skullflower, each with its own particular flavor, which makes things complicated. Probably the easiest way to answer this is by examining the lineups:
The first lineup was fairly fluid and included people like JFK (A. DiFranco), Stephen Thrower, Alex Binnie, and others I probably don't know about; the core, though, was Matthew Bower (guitar), Stuart Dennison (drums), and Stefan Jaworzyn (guitar), with JFK and Gary Mundy filling in on bass or third guitar as needed. This is the core that appears on the first ep, FORM DESTROYER, and XAMAN. These are not only three of the strongest releases in the entire Skullflower canon, but XAMAN is considered by many to be their best. Unfortunately, all three of these releases are horribly out of print, and XAMAN is a nightmare unto itself (see the appropriate discography page for the whole story). Most of the first ep and FORM DESTROYER (some of it remixed), along with a couple of extra tracks, are available on the RUINS cd, which is also out of print. There are a number of singles documenting the various stages of the lineup, all out of print. All of this material can be found on Ebay if you're patient (and rich) enough. This material is the most likely candidate for reissues from tUMULt, Crucial Blast, and anybody else willing to shell out the $$$ to put stuff out.
Recommended albums: RUINS, XAMAN
Stefan Jaworzyn left the group after recording XAMAN, at which point the band carried on for a while as a trio with just Bower, Dennison, and DiFranco. This is the lineup that recorded IIIRD GATEKEEPER and LAST SHOT AT HEAVEN. (GATEKEEPER has since been reissued by Crucial Blast in digipack format with redesigned artwork and superior remastering.) As with all their other material, these can be found on Ebay. IIIRD GATEKEEPER is probably the most "accessible" album of their early era, and basically sounds like extremely freeform Black Sabbath. The other one is a bit weirder but still largely rock-like (at least if you squint you can sort of see it in the distance). Both are excellent introductions to the band.
Recommended album: IIIRD GATEKEEPER, LAST SHOT AT HEAVEN
Russell Smith left Terminal Cheesecake after ANGELS IN PIGTAILS to play second guitar in Skullflower along with the existing members Bower, Dennison, and DiFranco. The new lineup made its debut with OBSIDIAN SHAKING CODEX, one of their best albums. This is the last of their records (with the exception of INFINITYLAND) that "rocks" in any real sense of the word; after this they began drifting into more ambient and freejazz territory, largely abandoning their already-tenuous attachment to standard rock conventions. Their next one, CARVED INTO ROSES, is the beginning of their drift into a noisy kind of dark ambient territory. INFINITYLAND returns to provide some serious thunder before things start drifting in different directions.
Recommendations: OBSIDIAN SHAKING CODEX, INFINITYLAND
After INFINITYLAND, Skullflower devolved into less of an actual band as, at times, a loose collection of collaborators doing various things and releasing all of it under the Skullflower name. As a result, the TRANSFORMER album is a pretty schizophrenic one. It makes a good overall introduction to Skullflower. The lineup of Bower, Dennison, and Smith was frequently augmented by Philip Best, Simon Wickham-Smith, RIchard Youngs, and Jon Godbert. An extended lineup with most of the collective members appeared live to record what became ARGON, probably the most polarizing recording in the Skullflower catalog, one that's reviled as frequently as it's revered. Skullflower and Ramleh recorded ADIEU ALL YE JUDGES together sometime during this period; it's a big noisy mess. The last album they made before going on hiatus, THIS IS SKULLFLOWER, is an album so quiet and ambient that it's almost lounge music.
Recommended album: TRANSFORMER
The post-THIS IS... Skullflower is largely Matthew Bower plus the occasional guest, and the sound of the albums has changed somewhat, becoming more noise and less rock. The best post-reformation releases are probably ORANGE CANYON MIND and TRIBULATION.
Q: What's this I hear about XAMAN's cd press run being all fucked up?
XAMAN was released on cd by Shock, Jaworyzn's label, and was pressed by the same pressing plant that used to press World Serpent's catalog at the same time. World Serpent (along with Shock and who knows how many others) eventually discovered that the plant's manufacturing method was defective, resulting in cds that oxided over time, rendering them noisy, erratic, and ultimately unplayable. XAMAN is one of the worst offenders in this category; most, if not all, of the copies of XAMAN in circulation now are totally unplayable. Keep that in mind when you're bidding on Ebay, eh?
Q: Why is this such a big deal with XAMAN? It's on vinyl, right?
There is indeed a vinyl edition of XAMAN (out of print, but available here and there), and it sounds mighty fine. Unfortunately, it does not include the three bonus tracks from the cd that don't appear anywhere else. Oopsie. You'd also best expect to pay at least $20-30 or more for it on Ebay.
Q: I heard they were controversial or soemthing. What's up with that?
Skullflower's sense of humor often ran to the scatalogical, and some of their early imagery borrowed heavily from power-electronics collage / outrage style. Guitarist Gary Mundy's band Ramleh was fond of referencing concentration camps (Nuengamme, Ramleh, etc.) and WW II war atrocities, and Ramleh's fascination for fascism led many to assume they were fascists themselves. Philip Best, a floating collaborator and Ramleh member, is also a member of Whitehouse, who are notorious for their misanthropic behavior and album covers / themes embracing serial killers, genocide, and misogyny. Skullflower is not so much controversial in itself as it is occasionally tainted by association, so to speak.
Q: How come I can't find (insert album here) or it's ridiculously expensive on Ebay?
Most of Skullflower's output was released on small labels, often by the band itself, in runs of 500 - 1,000. This is particularly true of the early albums; the first ep was pressed up in a run of 500 (?), and most of the copies were given away to pals and the music press. XAMAN is unlikely to be reissued for various reasons (see the XAMAN discography page for more details). In addition, many of the labels on which Skullflower albums appeared (Broken Flag, Shock, Noiseville, Head Dirt) are now defunct or essentially inactive. Basically, the first half of their discography is hard to find and the later stuff (most of which is on VHF or Sympathy For the Record Industry) is much easier to get.
Q: Who are you and what's your connection to Skullflower?
I'm just a feedback-lovin' schmoe (and guitarist for long-running noise / black metal band Korperschwache) who appears to have become the unofficial Skullflower historian by default. I started the site back in the early 1990s because one didn't exist. My own guitar style has been heavily influenced by Skullflower. I don't listen to as much Skullflower as I used to, but it's nice to know those albums are there when I need that old familiar rumbling sound....
LAST UPDATED: 5/17/08