These days, it might sound foreign to try and release a debut record with just two songs that both stretch beyond the 15-minute mark, but UK experimental metal band Jesu did just that with the 2004 EP Heart Ache. Of course, Jesu’s sole force back then—founding member Justin K. Broadrick—had the pedigree to pull off the task. A former member of Napalm Death and founding member of Godflesh, Broadrick had more than a lifetime’s worth of metal-inclinded musical experience before he started Jesu with one big, lengthy bang.
While Jesu has certainly garnered a healthy amount of critical acclaim and captured Broadrick’s built-in fan base, could Broadrick—or someone of Broadrick’s stature—have successfully launched a new musical project with a release like Heart Ache? When the a large amount of the conversation about music concerns digital singles—short, punchy tunes—could Jesu have muscled its way into today’s over-blogged music world?
Perhaps that was some of the thinking behind Jesu’s latest release, Heart Ache & Dethroned. Jesu has proven itself an innovator in the metal world, taking elements of doom metal, ambiance, trip-hop, industrial and a host of other genres, and pureeing it into a vital sound. But, does Broadrick’s first batch of Jesu material—the Heart Ache EP and four previously unfinished tunes that make up the Dethroned half of the release—still pack a punch?
In many ways, yes, both because of Broadrick’s strength as a songwriter and the album’s sheer size. Accepting the challenge of trying to hold a listener’s attention for a single, fluid musical number that surpasses 20 minutes (the excellent “Ruined” exceeds that mark by 14 seconds) is something to admire at a time when minute-long YouTube videos can seem boring after a few seconds. Both the aforementioned “Ruined” and Heart Ache‘s close-but-not-quite-20-minutes-long tune, “Heart Ache,” are thrilling experiences, fully engaging metal tunes that take dips and dives through different waves of emotional and compositional movements. The songs are two succinct, whole music experiences.
Which also makes Heart Ache & Dethroned a baffling concept. The Dethroned half of the release feels rather tacked on. Heart Ache was initially conceived and executed as a two-song affair, and the new re-release makes it all very apparent.
Not that the record’s other four tunes aren’t worth listening to. “I Can Only Disappoint You” displays Broadrick’s knack for creating an atmosphere, with the slightest guitar loop evoking a sense of creepiness at the song’s start. “Annul” leaps out with a dose of thick, fuzzy riffs that seem to serve as a reminder to listeners of the very sound Broadrick is toying with on Heart Ache & Dethroned.
Yet, as a whole, Heart Ache & Dethroned is a tough album to swallow. Combining a brilliant debut with some never-heard, once-unfinished songs is clearly a move made with diehard Jesu fans in mind. But, for the curious and casual music listeners, it’s the record’s shorter songs that, oddly enough, are the least listenable. It’s not quite cobbled together, but perhaps Heart Ache & Dethroned could have been a better record if all the songs were meant to be played in the manner they were put together.