Ex-Napalm Death/Godflesh mastermind Justin Broadrick finds his way to the light through dense layers of metallic sludge.
Around the age of 15, I started my first band, Insanity Starts at Lake Erie (don't ask). We were a trio consisting of two guitarists and a drummer, and because none of us were brave enough to sing, we were also instrumental. As we loved Sonic Youth and our drummer loved jazz, our songs were certainly interesting and definitely noisy. The reason I bring this up is to highlight the fact that not every teenager who picked up an instrument has an embarrassing or eccentric "first band" story. Sometimes you just hit the ground running. Such was the case for the now legendary Justin Broadrick, who at the age of 15 joined Napalm Death, a band that would redefine the most extreme edges of metal music. From there, Broadrick went on to form another hugely influential group, Godflesh, who after four short years, disbanded in 2002.
Broadrick, certainly never one to rest on his laurels (I haven't even touched upon his countless other projects including Techno Animal and Final) released his newest endeavor, Jesu's, two-song, 40-minute debut EP last year, entitled Heart Ache. 2005 has already been off to a helluva start for metal fans with new releases by Cursed, High on Fire, and Buried Inside. Well, metal heads better reach into their wallets one more time, because Jesu's debut full-length is great.
With eight songs clocking in at around 70 minutes, the album is every bit as expansive and epic as one would expect. Falling in line with Neurosis and Isis' most recent work, Jesu offers a distinctly more hopeful edge to their otherwise aggressive, yet somber journey through viscous, molasses-slow metal. But what becomes immediately apparent upon listening is how beautifully constructed and wonderfully subtle the album really is. Album opener "The Path to Divinity" runs for nearly four minutes consisting of nothing more than a bludgeoning bass riff, minimal trebly guitar, and clockwork percussion. However, slight variations and the sheer hypnotic power of the riff keep the listener entranced. Then, with an almost hymn like entrance, Broadrick's melodic singing breaks through the sludge, carried on the wings of an organ line, to appear only so briefly, and then disappear again under the weight of the music.
Indeed, Broadrick's modus operandi seems to be trying to marry the most devastatingly heavy music possible with airy, almost pop-like vocals. And it works. "Friends Are Evil" takes the sort of half-noise, half-grunge riff that Nirvana specialized in and slows it down into a syrupy consistency. From the opening of this harsh track, one simply couldn't imagine the beauty that would follow when Broadrick finally steps up to the mic (complete with the sort of pitchshifting production on his vocal line that would make Cher smile). The result -- as it is with most of the songs -- is incredible. His voice cuts the otherwise impenetrable wall of noise wide open, creating an enormous, airy space.
Only towards the end of the album, on "Man/Woman", does Broadrick turn to his growl. The track itself is possibly the weakest on the album, and that's simply because the vocal treatment is so ordinary. The rest of the album juxtaposes an extreme musical atmosphere with delicate vocal melodies. On "Man/Woman", the vocal and musical extremes cancel each other out.
Jesu's album, for the most part, is terrifically built. Though the shortest song is seven minutes long, Broadrick keeps each track interesting with electronic flourishes and pulsing noise combined with an unbelievably rhythmic backbone. Unfortunately, the album never achieves a truly cumulative power. With such a long runtime, one nearly expects a triumphant final act, but it's never delivered.
However, much can be forgiven an album as good as this. Broadrick's new statement is a sophisticated step forward and shows a tremendous progression for this already legendary metal pioneer.