jesu - conqueror

.:: Some albums grab you around the throat and bludgeon you right in the face. Others wind their way into you in a subtle way, taking a while to absorb their full impact. Jesu's latest effort falls into the latter category.

Conqueror is generally slow paced and even mellow at times, but still has moments of aggression. It combines beauty and angst, darkness and light, yin and yang into an album with a lot of emotional force. The songs have a doom metal vibe with slow, down tuned guitars. You'll also hear influences from the '90s shoegaze movement and some modern experimental metal and drone flourishes incorporated into the music as well.

One unfortunate aspect of underground music scenes is that all the exclusivity and strict codes meant to fend off clueless outsiders can lead bands to pander to their listeners. Like electronic, noise, jazz, and indie rock artists, metal bands have a firm grasp on what their personal majority demands: They recognize that the right amount of corpse-paint, Satanic imagery, blast-beats and amplifiers can lead to instant credibility. But knowing your fanbase too well can also result in albums so blandly tweaked toward the party line that producing interesting music takes a backseat to Staying on Message. So it's no surprise that one of the biggest dents smashed in metal's fa├žade over the past few years came with Mastodon, whose prog/arena/fantasy hybrid merged metal's volume, technical aptitude, and playful escapism in all the places the genre typically kept virginal.

Justin Broadrick's ongoing quest to spend the metal-cred capital he earned in Napalm Death and Godflesh like so much blood money has been both compelling and damaging to purists' psyches. The noisy yet stubbornly melodic shoegaze anthems he creates as Jesu mercilessly drag his audience to an appreciation of a densely layered, deliberately emotional sound. For a good time, fire up some message boards and watch partisans tie themselves in knots over Conqueror's decidedly pop bent and feather-light vocals. Broadrick floats all over the place, but even the outraged can't help but worship the heft that keeps his whole production aloft.

For those who'll claim Broadrick's gone soft, "Brighteyes" pairs heavy delay and an earnest vocal line with a Sabbath-worthy, cleaving guitar crunch, then segues back to "Mother Earth", which some have already half-ironically noted might find a home somewhere near Depeche Mode or My Bloody Valentine. Over a rounded, triumphantly ascending progression, Broadrick tries three incandescent falsetto-vocal harmonies that cut through his planet-dense production like a lighthouse beacon.

The album ends with an orchestral flourish, stabbing out a symphonic line that sounds pulled off an underwater violin, opening out into bursts of pure, sustained tone. It's no coincidence that his lyrics throughout the album dwell on clouds, sunsets, sunrises, medicine and its dully narcotic effects; his music comes over the stereo like its own weather pattern, an experience with more layers and detail than even 10 or 20 listens can trace out.

One might hope that others follow Broadrick's lead, but there's probably no surer way to convince him to abandon Jesu and its rush of pure ecstatic sound. If he could hear exactly what he wanted without having to make it himself, he most likely wouldn't make it at all.

download: jesu - conqueror


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