Skullflower was the flagship band of the Broken Flag collective, a group of experimental noise rock bands from the U.K. (most notably Ramleh, Total, and Sunroof!) that often swapped ideas and personnel. Led by guitarist Matthew Bower, the highly prolific Skullflower boasted the largest cult following of the bunch, with a sound based on sludgy, Black Sabbath-style riffs overlaid with feedback, fuzzed-out guitar noise, and throttling rhythms, all played at an ungodly volume. Always an improvisational outfit, their textured noise freak-outs grew increasingly free-form over the course of their career, moving farther and farther away from even loose definitions of "rock." Skullflower claimed a broad range of influences in addition to the aforementioned Sabbath: heavy psychedelia (Blue Cheer, et al.), Krautrock, classical avant-gardists (John Cage, Steve Reich, Terry Riley), early industrial music (Throbbing Gristle, Einstürzende Neubauten, Whitehouse), and noise rockers from the American indie world (Sonic Youth, Big Black, the Butthole Surfers). Despite a clear association with industrial music, Skullflower never employed much tape manipulation or electronic instrumentation, preferring a standard guitar/bass/drums lineup. The results often drew comparisons to bands like Savage Republic, Nurse With Wound, and New Zealand's Dead C, and were an avowed influence on bands as diverse as Bardo Pond and Godflesh.
Skullflower was formed in London in 1987, growing out of guitarist Matthew Bower's previous band, Total (which subsequently turned into a solo side project). Skullflower's early core members were Bower, drummer Stuart Dennison (the only other constant besides Bower), and bassist/guitarist Stefan Jaworzyn. The lineup was fairly fluid, however, especially early on; other contributors included guitarist Gary Mundy (also the leader of Ramleh), bassist Alex Binnie, bassist/drummer Stephen Thrower (also of Coil), and auxiliary bassist/guitarist/drummer Anthony DiFranco (also known as JFK). Initially recording for the Broken Flag label, a community enterprise that also handled Ramleh and Total, Skullflower made their recorded debut with the 1988 EP Birthdeath, and followed it with the full-length Form Destroyer in 1989. Like much of their subsequent output, both releases were pressed in extremely limited quantities. Material from both was included on 1990's Ruins, the group's first release on Jaworzyn's Shock label; several tracks appeared in remixed form.
The contentious mixing process for Skullflower's next release, 1990's Xaman, spelled the end of Jaworzyn's involvement in the group. Bower subsequently recruited Anthony DiFranco to take over the full-time bass duties, and this trio recorded 1992's IIIrd Gatekeeper for Godflesh guitarist Justin Broadrick's HeadDirt label; they also toured as Godflesh's opening act that fall. Two more albums followed in 1993: Last Shot to Heaven, on Noiseville, and Obsidian Shaking Codex, on RRR. By this time, DiFranco was decreasing his involvement in the group, and eventually left altogether to record as Ax; his place was filled by official second guitarist Russell Smith, formerly of Terminal Cheesecake.
Hereafter, Skullflower concentrated on free-form noise improv to a greater degree than ever before. 1994's Carved Into Roses, on VHF, featured guest vocals from Philip Best (also of Ramleh and Whitehouse), plus Casio squiggles from Simon Wickham-Smith. 1995 was a prolific year even for Skullflower: Argon (issued on Freek) added horn players John Godbert and Tim Hodgkinson to the overall din, while Infinityland (a second effort for HeadDirt) again welcomed Best and Wickham-Smith, and the live Adieu, All You Judges (back on Broken Flag) captured a joint performance with Ramleh. 1996's Transformer was released on the prominent, garage-oriented indie label Sympathy for the Record Industry, and marked a quieter, more ambient direction for the band, complete with strings. It was followed later that year by the similar This Is Skullflower, which appeared on VHF and featured Godbert on piano, as well as third guitarist Richard Youngs. Following that release, Matthew Bower opted to concentrate on his other bands, the even more improvisational Sunroof! and Total, and retired the Skullflower name.
Bower and Dennison resurrected the group in 2003, recording Exquisite F**king Boredom for the tUMULt label along with guitarist Mark Burns and bassist Steve Martin; it was co-produced by Neil Campbell (Vibracathedral Orchestra, ex-Total) and Colin Potter (Nurse With Wound). ~ Steve Huey