2009: THE YEAR IN JESU
Former Godflesh/current Jesu mastermind Justin Broadrick has a Twitter account. Now while this could be troublesome/groanworthy news for some characters prone to oversharing (though certainly not in Metal Sucks’ case), for Broadrick, it seems fitting, given his prolific approach to music. His output is measured in months, not years, as is the case with most bands. To look at Jesu in its own timeline yields a recent string of iffy releases, like the band’s extremely boring split with Eluvium (repackaged as the Why We Are Not Perfect EP), and two so-so contributions to splits with Envy and Battle of Mice (though so-so in the most literal sense of the phrase, in that each split contained one song that was meandering and seemingly pointless, and one that stood among the best Broadrick has done under the Jesu moniker). However, to look at it in a regular spectrum, that was only 2008; one only needs to reach back to 2007 to find the magnificent full length Conqueror, still in the typical two year gap most artists have between records.
But in JB Time, this is an eternity. One may wonder if the man had knocked himself off kilter, that if Jesu’s best days were behind them. But with Justin Broadrick’s work with beard metal supergroup Greymachine and two releases with Jesu this year, he proves that at the very least has more interesting things to say, if not still capable of putting out the band’s best material in the future. Don’t call it a comeback, because, well, it isn’t. But when those slow, chunky chords first make their appearance on the Infinity full length or that Cure-on-a-7-string beauty rears its head on “Deflated” (off the Opiate Sun EP), it’s immediately clear that the Jesu magic is still there, and that while Justin is prone to get lost in the wilderness, he’s usually on his way back, often times a few months later.
Infinity, Jesu’s first offering this year, is a new full length with only one song (also called “Infinity,” presumably to avoid confusion). And while calling a Jesu song too long and ultimately pointless is an obvious and redundant claim to most (in that Jesu’s long and slow dirges are certainly not for everyone, if not for most), even their most devoted fans may find that “Infinity” collapses under its own weight. In Broadrick’s defense, 49 minutes is a lot of space to fill. But to his detriment, “Infinity” would have been primo Jesu at half its length, as the last 25 minutes are purposeless filler. But that first half – still an impressive 24 minutes – serves as an interesting survey of Jesu thus far: after three or so minutes of electro-noodling (like what JB seemed to be preoccupied with on the last two Jesu EPs, but with actual forward propulsion this time around), the band’s trademark Godflesh-with-feelings riffs enter the fray, eventually augmented by towering-yet-melancholy arpeggios and Broadrick’s haunting, fragile tenor. The thick, introspective doom-sludge of the band’s debut is present (even right down to a cameo from his angry bark, a sound I never get sick of hearing), as is the shoegazing heaviness of Silver and Conqueror. Though it doesn’t necessarily contain anything the band haven’t already done, it does revisit the material one could have easily assumed they abandoned. At its worst, the first half of “Infinity” is just a reminder of what Jesu have going for them. At its best, it’s majestic, lilting, epic, and heavy, which are basically all the traits that draw the band’s slavish devotees.
But around the halfway point, Jesu reminds us of their worst inclinations: meandering, myopic song structures that squander their promise by not really going anywhere. Most of the remaining 25 minutes are crafted around one riff, which, while interesting at first, is not good enough to be flogged for just shy of half an hour. Metal’s golden standard of the long song – Sleep’s “Dopesmoker” – illustrates how to keep a listener’s attention: subtle changes to its structure to imply that said song NEEDS its inflated length. “Infinity”– when listened to in its entirety, as is the assumed intended purpose– never asserts that it has to be 49 minutes long, but instead smacks of an experiment put to tape and then released by a label. While it contains some excellent material, when taken as a whole, it’s masturbatory and unlistenable. When considered along with “Hard to Reach” off last year’s split with Envy – another track that takes up a relative lot of time then doesn’t go anywhere – one wonders if Jesu’s critical success has caused Justin Broadrick to think anything he releases is gold, and subsequently lost his sense of self-editing.
Thankfully, Jesu’s latest release – the Opiate Sun EP – makes that last sentence hyperbolic. The most interesting part of “Infinity”‘s bloated second half is its remarkably natural guitar sound, and that sound is present all over Opiate Sun. That along with frequent harmonizing of Broadrick’s vocals make the EP pleasant but not breezy, like the well adjusted twin of 2006’s Silver, the band’s (arguably) finest hour. Many (MANY, as of late) bands try to do the metal-meets-shoegaze thing, but no one does it quite like Jesu, and Opiate Sun is the band firing on all cylinders.
And “band” is meant literally here, as it’s Broadrick playing with hired guns on live instruments. While he’s done good work on his own (the Lifeline and Sundown/Sunrise EPs, as well as the aforementioned first half of “Infinity”), his best stuff has been with others shaping his sloth-like guitar parts (their self titled debut, Conqueror, and Silver). And Opiate Sun certainly is among Jesu’s best, sounding more rich and full than they have before. While there’s nothing that will satisfy those looking for Streetcleaner: Part II, those who like their metal broad, expansive, and even beautiful (and who secretly like the Cure, Ride, and Swervedriver) will adore Opiate Sun as much as they’ve adored the band’s lush odes to desolation that came before it. While worrying Justin Broadrick’s Twitter account will become an outlet for describing his trips to the post office or exclaiming “OMG KITTENS!!!” is selling the guy short, so is thinking a qualitative lull in his prolific output signals an irreversible decline in the repute of his band’s albums. Infinity shows that there’s something worthwhile even in his most challenging experiments, and Opiate Sun shows that the Mr. Broadrick’s still got it. 4 months from now, we’ll see where he’s headed next, and no doubt it’ll at least be interesting.
(2 1/2 out of 5 horns)
(4 out of 5 horns)