Jesu - Biography
Justin K. Broadrick has toiled at the interstices of art-metal and dubwise electronic music for over a decade. He has been involved in a huge number of groups as wide ranging as grindcore pioneers Napalm Death, industrial metal band Godflesh and the dubbed out apocalyptic beats of Techno Animal with Kevin Martin (aka The Bug). Only recently does it seem like Broadrick has found a singular voice, and singular it is. Since 2003, Broadrick’s own Jesu project has been walking an unwavering path, forging a very specific strain of ambient post-metal. It’s a path that has yielded powerful results.
After the decade-plus run on which Broadrick led the highly regarded Godflesh, he decided to put the project to rest in 2002, supposedly following a nervous breakdown. It must have been a fairly fast recovery, as Jesu publicly emerged in 2004. Parts of these early recordings feel like they could have been almost therapeutic to make, especially in relation to much of Godflesh’s sound. Essentially Broadrick solo, the first Jesu release, Heart Ache (2004 Dry Run Recordings) features two twenty-minute plus tracks of doom-laden pounding and fuzzed out guitar drones. Although nominally more industrial sounding than later Jesu, largely due to the programmed drum sounds, the extended endings of both tracks hint at the graceful melodic drift that will come to characterize Jesu’s best music.
That same year brought the first full-length. Jesu (2004 Hydra Head Records) immediately outshines its predecessor in both sonic power and melodic dynamics. The record is also more focused than the debut EP, with most tracks averaging a ten-minute length. Broadrick enlisted drummer Ted Parsons and bassist Diarmuid Dalton for a more full and organic sound. Broadrick’s vocals also sound more confident here, seeming louder in the mix. Jesu sounds like the best elements of metal suspended in murky resin; forms are perceived but distorted through the skewed depth of field. Comparisons to My Bloody Valentine are inevitable, but Jesu assimilates obvious elements of metal and industrial music that MBV never dealt with. It’s no easy feat to pull off sounding muscular and dreamy at the same time, and both of those adjectives reduce Jesu’s music to more basic elements than it deserves. Jesu received critical acclaim from nearly every outlet.
Silver (2006 Hydra Head Records) was released two years later. Recorded mostly by Broadrick with Dalton on bass and Parsons on drums for only one track, the EP has a strong dark ambient feel. The music here retains the sweeping melodic developments made on the debut full-length, but focuses more on shifting layered textures via guitar and electronics. Songs are slightly shorter and most feature a molasses-slow tempo, allowing space for the textures to ebb and flow. Another notable departure is in the drum programming. Moving away from traditionally industrial drum sounds to more electronica influenced beats makes the programming feel more contemporary.
By the end of 2006 Broadrick was touring with drone-metal giants Sunn 0))), and the next Jesu full-length was highly anticipated. Conqueror (2007 Hydra Head Records) was released in late February of the next year. Recorded with the full lineup of Dalton and Parsons, it remains Jesu’s most fully formed recording. Further exploring the single-minded groundwork laid by the band’s previous releases, and mining the shimmering melodic territory Jesu had been focused on since Silver, Conqueror distills every angle Broadrick’s career has taken into one massive record. Texturally and structurally experimental, the record melds slow post-metal riffing, gritty ambience, dubwise detail and huge soaring melodies to absolutely gorgeous effect. Although Conqueror is the most atmospherically detailed Jesu record, the real shock is in the songwriting. The melodies can only be described as grandiose. Yet nothing here feels overblown due to the economical instrumentation and unique effects processing. The shifting, layered, treated guitars and electronics, live drums and hushed vocals merge to form a subtly powerful sonic beast. Conqueror is a true triumph, a stoned wistful misty bliss of a record.
2007 yielded a flurry of activity after the success of Conqueror. Jesu released two EP’s of all new material, Lifeline (2007 Hydra Head Records) and Sun Down/Sun Rise (2007 Aurora Borealis), a collection of early Broadrick-only Jesu tracks titled Pale Sketches (2007 Avalanche Recordings), and Split (2007 Hydra Head Records), a split release with ambient musician Eluvium.
Of the two EP’s, Sun Down/Sun Rise is the most satisfying. Featuring two tracks clocking in around the fifteen-minute mark, the structure of the EP hints back to the first Jesu release. Sonically very similar to Conqueror, yet lacking Parsons’ drums, the two long tracks go straight for the drone bliss-out, providing some of Jesu’s most interesting ambient-leaning music. Again boasting the sound of Conqueror, the Lifeline EP is more song oriented, with concise tracks and a strong emphasis on vocals. The only misstep here is “Storm Comin’ On” which features ex-Swans vocalist Jarboe. The traditional rock song structure is less interesting, and Jarboe’s delivery is trite.
Pale Sketches proves Broadrick’s intent for the Jesu sound was there from the beginning. That said, it's also interesting to hear the sound develop into the newer tracks included on this compilation. The three Jesu tracks on the Split release prove to be the most exciting post-Conqueror music. Easily the most electronic-heavy music Broadrick has produced, the sound is almost like a metal Seefeel. Pulsing electronic beats, dubby bass and ethereal shoegaze guitars enshroud Broadrick’s deadpan vocals. It’s interesting how much Broadrick’s vocals sound like Brian Eno on the opening track. Perhaps even more interesting are the elements of metal and industrial Broadrick takes with him as Jesu’s music moves further from those obvious genre signifiers. Doom drones make the cut, as well as some oilcan percussion sounds; but the newest Jesu music is slowly shedding much of its former self for an even more melodic, gentler ambient-pop sound. All three tracks from the Split release with Eluvium, plus two alternate versions, are available as Why Are We Not Perfect (2008 Hydra Head Records).
Through the merger of seemingly disparate types of music such as ambient electronica, dream-pop, industrial and doom metal, Broadrick has created a highly distinctive sound with Jesu. By constantly evolving this sound yet remaining focused on what makes the sound its own, Jesu will surely continue to produce captivating records.