In a live setting, Jucifer is one of the most imposing bands you’ll ever witness, visually and sonically. Playing in front of a rather incredible wall of more than two dozen amplifiers, the husband and wife duo of drummer Edgar Livengood and vocalist/guitarist Gazelle Amber Valentine hammers out music that is unbelievably primal. Valentine unleashes her hyper-amplified riffs that start off sounding like doom metal, veer into crust punk and grindcore, then suddenly shift to sludge and even drone, those guttural chords so loud and so enveloping it feels like the room has shrunk to half the size. Meanwhile, Livengood thrashes away at his drum kit with a force that is mind-boggling, managing to match his wife’s intensity step for step. This is rock, metal, punk, whatever you want to call it, at its most cathartic, and the self-described nomads have built a very strong live reputation over the years, traveling constantly in their motor home across North America and Europe, playing to whoever will have them, no matter if there are a couple hundred people or a couple dozen.
On record, though, it’s a totally different story. While Valentine and Livengood stick to a rather straightforward template onstage, they’ve taken advantage of their studio time to explore sounds they wouldn’t normally try live, such as folk, Southern rock, densely layered shoegaze, Stooges-style garage rock, touches of space rock, and plenty of moments for Valentine to explore her sultrier, feminine side. Because of those diverse musical interests, their past albums have consequently made for some very enjoyable listening, audiences never knowing what stylistic change is lurking around the corner. The band’s partnership with Relapse Records yielded the strongest, most eclectic work of their career, starting with 2006’s solid If Thine Enemy Hunger and peaking with the ambitious L’Autrichienne in 2008, a sprawling, 21-song concept album about Marie Antoinette that madly changed styles with each song. Unfortunately, that fine album didn’t get the biggest promotional push by the label, the relationship soured, and Jucifer decided to strike out on their own, creating their own imprint in Nomadic Fortress, and releasing their fifth album on their own terms.
Throned in Blood wastes absolutely no time in letting us know just how different a record this will be, especially compared to the last two. Instead of exploring different sounds, Valentine and Livengood are now focusing on translating that ferocious live sound on record, and as a result this is one dark, dark album. The title track just might be the heaviest song Jucifer has ever recorded, its first half sounding as raw as a Hellhammer demo from the early ‘80s, its second half downshifting into a lumbering funeral doom piece. All the while, Valentine screams her throat raw, Livengood punctuating her lines with cymbal crashes so hard you find yourself listening for the sounds of breaking sticks. “Contempt” carries itself with a metal swagger, actually echoing the primitive black metal sounds of Darkthrone, while “Rifles” contrasts all the metallic muscle with some rare, well-timed melodic vocals by Valentine. “Work Will Make Us Free” combines a deliberate march with full-throttle grindcore passages, “Good Provider” is a 58-second blast of pure hardcore, “Spoils to the Conqueror” is a powerful, seven-and-a-half-minute doom epic, and the bleak “Armageddon” ends things on a surprisingly understated note.
Judging by the arrangements alone, Throned in Blood is as grim as all get-out, but even more so once we explore Valentine’s lyrical themes. She touches on humanity at its darkest and most hopeless, from Auschwitz, to Hiroshima, to the massacre of Native North Americans, to Augusto Pinochet, to the Fall of Rome, and when the album is at its strongest, the combination of music and lyrics works to devastating effect. There’s no question the more melodic side of Jucifer is missed, as we get nothing on par with such past standouts as “Pontius of Pallia”, “When She Goes Out”, or “Gunpowder”, but although their approach is far more basic and stripped-down, it’s no less rewarding than anything Valentine and Livengood have done before. Besides, now that they have full creative control over their music, who knows what this talented pair will attempt next? In the meantime, chances are they’ll be rolling into your city in the near future. Just follow the tremors in the ground.