Friday, May 6, 2011
[pitchfork.com] Here's something amazing: Napalm Death are still an ongoing concern. That band-- formed by bored, obsessive teenagers in mid-1980s Birmingham, England-- sped up death metal into a chaotic, borderline comical blur; their best-known early song is probably still the one-second John Peel favorite "You Suffer". The frenzied style that these kids pioneered came to be known as grindcore, and their debut album, Scum, is now regarded as a stone classic in underground metal. But all the original members drifted away; the band remains a touring machine staffed by grizzled vets who regularly crank out more albums of still-potent bloodlettings. You have to wonder how it feels to be a grown man, making your living playing in a band that was started by children, children who no longer have any real connection to what you're doing. And you have to wonder how it feels to be one of those children, moving on to other things in life and watching your childhood creation continuing to pound away.
One of those children is Justin Broadrick, whose post-Napalm Death body of work is a varied and fascinating thing. With Godflesh, he built a brutal slow-thud form of electronic rock, a sound so heavy you couldn't rightly call it metal. He's also made various forms of scraping noise under different names: Techno Animal, Final, Pale Sketcher. And for nearly a decade, he's been the man behind Jesu, where he's done something more startling than anything he did under his other guises: He's created beauty. Jesu's music is a kind of tidal slow-churn take on sad-bastard indie rock, Broadrick burying his muttery one-note vocals under avalanches of guitar fuzz and slathering them in prettily reverbed synth figures.
Jesu have released most of their music on Hydra Head, a label that specializes in contemplative metal, but lately they've been recording for Calo Verde, the label founded by the Red House Painters' Mark Kozelek. Broadrick has cited the Red House Painters as an inspiration, and it's easy to see how those two could form a mutual admiration society. Jesu, especially on the new Ascension, do a pretty incredible job evoking the feeling of depression through music, its melodies buried under so many oceans of impossibly slow sound that you just barely notice they're there. Nothing Broadrick has ever done with Jesu would give you any clue he was ever in Napalm Death, but on his last two albums, a punishing riff or a gnarled roar would occasionally flare up out of nowhere. And there was also a punk-rock directness about the music; more than one critic compared Jesu to Jawbreaker. But on Ascension, Broadrick never allows himself a moment of catharsis or hope; it's music for rocking back and forth in a fetal position.
Nothing remotely rock even happens on the album until 90 seconds in, when a titanic wall of guitar builds up behind the skeletal acoustic figures and muttery Slint-sounding vocals of "Fools". "Birth Day" has the gasping synths I've come to associate with witch house, as well as all sorts of delicate guitar noodles that would've done Explosions in the Sky proud. A few songs rank as straight-up eight-minute crawls, and the drama comes as the riffs glacially crash into one another, all tragic grandeur. And all throughout, Broadrick sounds like a shattered man, barely ever raising his voice enough that you can clearly make out what he's saying.
READ THE ENTIRE REVIEW HERE.
Posted by Dan Goldin at 6:59 PM