Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Ascension - Jesu


Caldo Verde Records.

SCQ Rating: 84%

Taking all of Justin Broadrick’s many musical projects into consideration, there’s little questioning that Jesu has been as much the songwriter’s show-horse and his workhorse. Over the course of fifteen releases – in just another a decade, keep in mind – Broadrick has fine-tuned Jesu into a brand. Sure, it might swerve spontaneously from industrial to electronic to raw metal but its undertow, in sludgy claws that manifest slow-motion beauty out of everyday depression, remains Jesu’s main draw and raison d’être. So it seemed a natural strategy that Jesu’s prolific output would deal mostly in split projects and EPs; formats that limited Jesu’s grandiose habits to digestible tablets that illustrated enormity without exhausting listeners.

Especially after the concise and awe-inspired snapshots Jesu captured in the Silver and Lifeline EPs, the announcement of Ascension as the long-awaited full-length follow-up to 2007’s Conqueror made me question the vitality of this long-standing brand: is Broadrick magnetic enough as a personality or vocalist to carry an hour-long dirge? Can Jesu’s notoriously stagnant repertoire keep listeners’ interested over such a haul? Much like the cover-art of Ascension, these answers fall into substantial grey area; tracks like ‘Fools’ and ‘December’ may take an ungodly amount of time to circle their conservative chords but Broadrick’s atmosphere and disaffected delivery somehow imbue the void with a hypnotic quality worth revisiting. The more familiar one gets, the clearer Jesu’s breathtaking vistas can be felt through the crushing distortion coating ‘Small Wonder’ and ‘Broken Home’. Not every song offers such keen unraveling but that impenetrable wall of sound is also a Jesu trademark that keeps this body of work so intimidating.

In fact, when you look at what makes Ascension unique compared to prior releases, they read more as hindrances than compliments; from the predictably glum mood to Broadrick’s odd desire to marginalize his own voice (which sounds almost swallowed by feedback at all times), it’s no surprise that many critics have shrugged this record off. Its angle might be soft from a music journalist’s perspective but these songs are ironclad, bulked to a heavy encumbrance even when Broadrick sounds more vulnerable than ever. Ascension boasts a lot of hard edges and uncompromising techniques but it makes each reward something greater to savour.

Jesu - Small Wonder by brooklynvegan

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