Jesu - _Infinity / Opiate Sun_
(Avalanche Recordings / Caldo Verde Records, 2009)
by: Jeremy Ulrey (9.5 and 8 out of 10 respectively)
While the rest of the post-metal kingdom is off flirting with brighter, more accessible textures, genre godfather Justin K. Broadrick recedes back into the shadows of melancholy and experimental abrasion with a pair of recent releases. His first major efforts since leaving long time label Hydra Head, the split seems none too coincidental: whereas Isis and even Pelican seem to be slowly edging toward the sludgeless, near melodic ambiance of Explosions in the Sky or Mogwai, Broadrick holds the fort for those who prefer a denser, more menacing beauty with Jesu, his primary musical vehicle for the past six years.

_Infinity_ comes off as almost a direct response to the trend toward brevity and less demanding song structures. The entirety of the album consists of the 50-minute title track, which begins with a startling, unexpected industrial beat a la Broadrick's old Techno Animal project (not to mention his frequent remix assignments) and then, a few minutes in, implodes into a snarling, chugging riff recalling Godflesh yet retaining the plaintive vocals Broadrick regularly employs with Jesu. (I say "entirety" but the Japanese release includes a bonus CD with a 17 minute reinterpretation, presumably by Broadrick himself as it is uncredited. It's worth seeking out.)

Over the course of nearly an hour the track evolves and devolves between hammering beats and moody ambiance, but there is a seamlessness to it all that raises the question just how prudent it is for other prominent post-metal bands to willfully strive for greater brevity and more songs per album, particularly when albums like _Infinity_ prove just how many disparate elements can be woven into one seamless tapestry while heightening the hypnotic, trance inducing effect, giving the listener no quarter... no pause to come up for air. _Infinity_ could have easily been broken down into six to eight smaller, more easily digested parts, but by stringing it all together without any chinks or cracks where a logical break might be, the audience is kept on a hook and forced to deal with it as a singular whole.

_Opiate Sun_, however, brings us full circle back around to the more traditional Jesu sound, four tracks in the six to seven minute range and prominently featuring catchy hooks and conventional song structures. (Considering Broadrick's wide array of avant garde solo projects over the years, the only thing "startling" about _Infinity_ was that it was released under the Jesu banner in the first place.) Now, that description may sound hypocritical when I've already taken other, similarly minded bands to task for writing more conventional songs in recent years. The difference, I think, is that those bands are still hewing too tightly to their avantgarde instincts while also failing to deliver the goods from a "mainstream", melodic standpoint, so their efforts neither work as conventional, catchy singles nor do they remain challenging enough to take seriously as "art" (ironically, bands like Isis and Pelican were arguably more catchy back when they were doing the extended, heavy riff trip).

Jesu -- on releases such as _Opiate Sun_ and their Hydra Head material, at least -- make no pretense at art rock, and in fact Justin Broadrick has stated half-jokingly in interviews that this band is where he exorcises his pop instincts. Sure, there is a heavy wash of droning guitar and the vocals, buried in the mix like a seductive undertow, are not positioned as a lead instrument as you would expect in a mainstream rock context, but in its own narcotic haze it more appropriately recalls the likes of My Bloody Valentine or Lush -- bands that one need not be well versed in obscure indie rock in order to readily comprehend -- rather than evoking Sunn O))) and the like.

As Jesu material the obvious knock is that these four songs are possibly treading water, being not dissimilar to those on 2004's maiden platter, the _Heart Ache_ EP, and that criticism is true to an extent. Nonetheless, this is uniformly strong material, "Losing Streak" being possibly the catchiest song Broadrick has come up with since "Silver" in 2006, and even while being melodic the work is free of those nagging, chiming arpeggios that make so much of this genre linchpins these days sound like they've been listening to The Edge much more than Tony Iommi. So, with more experimental projects like the new Final 2CD and a collaboration with Aaron Turner called Greymachine, Broadrick is successfully juggling the spheres of conventional rock and avantgarde skronk in exactly the measure that recent Hydra Head efforts have attempted, yet fallen short on.


(article published 14/2/2010)

7/15/2006 T DePalma 5.5 Jesu - Silver
5/17/2005 T DePalma 8 Jesu - Jesu
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