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Artist: Jesu

Album: Jesu

Label: Hydra Head

Review date: Mar. 8, 2005

The mighty Godflesh was silenced in 2002 after founder Justin Broadrick suffered a nervous breakdown before embarking on a two-month tour planned with High on Fire. Then came Jesu. Ostensibly a concerted effort to retain only selected pieces of the Godflesh sound, Jesu takes Godflesh’s nihilistic shell and infuses it with a material nothingness. As contradictory as it may sound, the forlorn emptiness remains; nothing becomes something, even if it’s only a void that deftly avoids semantic – or semiotic – connotation. And if this seems confounding, the most remarkable facet of Jesu’s sound is that it’s hopeful.

The presence of hope and the presence of Justin Broadrick have been, in past instance, entirely mutually exclusive. Bring these two together despite their repellent forces, sop them in ecclesiastical gravy, and there are bound to be some eyebrows raised. For Broadrick, who was once comfortable packaging music in Golgotha’s conflagration (see Streetcleaner’s usage of a scene from Altered States), has dusted off his parochial church Latin, adopting one of the three declensional forms of “Jesus,” i.e., Jesu as his nome de disque. Perhaps Broadrick’s tonal and lyrical pessimism has become fully realized. Maybe he’s now certain of reality’s malignance, and has made peace with its carrion promise. This notion, undeniably Buddhist, informs Jesu’s path.

Jesu opening “Your Path to Divinity” warps E-Bow’d guitar grappling into the snarling drones of Tibetan Dung Chens – the long horn used in monastic rituals. And while the martial drumming of Godflesh remains, warm organ pulses defuse the bleakness of Broadrick’s morose monotone. The effect is peculiar, like celebrating death, or fashioning a nearly permanent way to deal with impermanence.

Other tracks behave accordingly. The 11-minute dirge, “Walk on Water,” sounds almost like My Bloody Valentine’s “Loomer” slowed to a crawl and lowered an octave. Drums mope and mash around Broadrick’s slowly drawn chords, all of which is offset by a tenor that is simultaneously cheery and crepuscular. The 10-minute “Sun Day,” with its opening of slowly evolving keys is redolent of Richard James’ most pastoral ambient work, and again manages to reference monastic music, with its clattering Rolmo like cymbals. Broadrick is quick to vocalize, even if his tones have little to nothing in common with the anguished cries that were characteristic of Godflesh’s vitriolic ululation.

Jesu’s end result is an odd mixture of sated perplex. The majority of these songs sound sometimes like what The Jesus and Mary Chain’s Psychocandy would’ve sounded had someone combed all the unruly fuzz away from its face; and other times – ironically enough – like what bands Pelican and Isis have worked to become: truly original, and talented acts, that toiled – with near cultish devotion – from a Godflesh template. This is not to say that Jesu’s gravitas is loosed of its load, or that Pelican and Isis are sonic aping for Godflesh in absentia – it’s quite the opposite actually. The fact is, Broadrick honestly has not put forth a record of this stature since ’89’s Streetcleaner or Godflesh’s self-titled debut.

Jesu shows Broadrick to be a great deal more than some god bothering heretical metalhead. Jesu is Broadrick’s Imitation of Christ – a sonic exploration of the inner life, of contemplation. Sure, the vehicle is as unlikely as the gift: Broadrick comes bearing peace? But, as any self-respecting Red Stater knows, peace comes only after great loss, and Jesu is the definitive soundtrack to a decidedly thorny sacrifice.

By Stewart Voegtlin

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