From pitchfork.com: “One unfortunate aspect of underground music scenes is that all the exclusivity and strict codes meant to fend off clueless outsiders can lead bands to pander to their listeners. Like electronic, noise, jazz, and indie rock artists, metal bands have a firm grasp on what their personal majority demands: They recognize that the right amount of corpse-paint, Satanic imagery, blast-beats and amplifiers can lead to instant credibility. But knowing your fanbase too well can also result in albums so blandly tweaked toward the party line that producing interesting music takes a backseat to Staying on Message. So it’s no surprise that one of the biggest dents smashed in metal’s façade over the past few years came with Mastodon, whose prog/arena/fantasy hybrid merged metal’s volume, technical aptitude, and playful escapism in all the places the genre typically kept virginal.
Justin Broadrick’s ongoing quest to spend the metal-cred capital he earned in Napalm Death and Godflesh like so much blood money has been both compelling and damaging to purists’ psyches. The noisy yet stubbornly melodic shoegaze anthems he creates as Jesu mercilessly drag his audience to an appreciation of a densely layered, deliberately emotional sound. For a good time, fire up some message boards and watch partisans tie themselves in knots over Conqueror’s decidedly pop bent and feather-light vocals. Broadrick floats all over the place, but even the outraged can’t help but worship the heft that keeps his whole production aloft.
Jesu’s 2006 EP, Silver, hinted that suspiciously alternative rock and indie-inflected emo might be the next step in Broadrick’s 25-year evolution from the single-cell grindcore he had a huge hand in inventing. But it’s Silver’s Codeine- and Ride-reminiscent haze that takes center stage on Conqueror, ditching the uptempo drums and unmasked vocal for a murky, oscillating cloud of simple ascending melodies.
You could slot Jesu in with Isis, Pelican, Ocean, and other practioners of what Pitchfork’s Brandon Stosuy once called “the new metal baroque,” but despite Broadrick’s endless fascination with raw sound and tone (check out his interview with EQ Magazine for some seriously protracted gear talk), his songs touch down with way more melody and weight. Jesu are both drastically more metal and more indie than their compatriots.
Take “Weightless & Horizontal”, Conqueror’s 10-minute centerpiece. Over an impressively gothic, plodding guitar punch Broadrick serenely sings, “Try to lose yourself/ I’m way past trying/ I’m way past caring/ I’m way past hoping.” His weary nihilism (a long-term goal of his; he once said in an interview that he wanted “to make something so melancholic that it would become the ultimate wrist-slashing experience, up there with Joy Division and Red House Painters”) collides with some very wistful, distinctly unmetal sentiments: “You’re always leaving/ You’re always hoping/ Wash away your tears.” Here, as in many places, Jesu’s guitars reach toward melodically searing places while unleashing the same adrenaline rush as their more inhibited hardcore peers.
For those who’ll claim Broadrick’s gone soft, “Brighteyes” pairs heavy delay and an earnest vocal line with a Sabbath-worthy, cleaving guitar crunch, then segues back to “Mother Earth”, which some have already half-ironically noted might find a home somewhere near Depeche Mode or My Bloody Valentine. Over a rounded, triumphantly ascending progression, Broadrick tries three incandescent falsetto-vocal harmonies that cut through his planet-dense production like a lighthouse beacon.
The album ends with an orchestral flourish, stabbing out a symphonic line that sounds pulled off an underwater violin, opening out into bursts of pure, sustained tone. It’s no coincidence that his lyrics throughout the album dwell on clouds, sunsets, sunrises, medicine and its dully narcotic effects; his music comes over the stereo like its own weather pattern, an experience with more layers and detail than even 10 or 20 listens can trace out.
One might hope that others follow Broadrick’s lead, but there’s probably no surer way to convince him to abandon Jesu and its rush of pure ecstatic sound. If he could hear exactly what he wanted without having to make it himself, he most likely wouldn’t make it at all.”