Listening to the kind of music we do, it could be argued that we have a developed taste for noise; whether it be dissonant vocals, atonal bridges or walls of distortion. More importantly, there is a respect developed for musicians who can shape this noise and chaos into something beautiful. Bands like Orchid, Pig Destroyer, Black Flag or Envy capably take noise and channel it into a sound that is both harsh and wonderful, and while everyone can appreciate a good pop hook, the ability to control this sound is truly something special.
The first time I noticed that I had this appreciation for chaos was listening to Helmet's “Unsung.” In the bridge, the entire band plays layers of overlapping guitars, which, to the untrained ear, sounds like a discordant mess, but underneath it all, the bass-line carries the band's entire melody, like a ray of light nearly strangled by darkness. It was truly awe-inspiring, not just for the song itself, but because it created an appreciation in me for the contrasting sounds of dissonance and beauty.
In the modern era, the level of noise we're willing to tolerate in the name of music has increased, but the number of musicians who can truly mould this noise is certainly faltering; some bands spend so much time on the “heavy” or the “loud” that they forget to write a song; technical hardcore/metal bands write slews of technically daunting “parts” but rarely do they write a song. I wouldn't say it's turning into a lost art, but it's certainly become less appreciated than technical ability in some parts.
This, of course, is what makes Justin Broadrick's Jesu so incredible -- a musician who cut his teeth on the most formidable, and possibly best Napalm Death record; a musician who developed a pioneering mixture of man and machine in Godflesh -- has finally created what is arguably his best project. The band's debut, Jesu was crushingly heavy, but not in the sense of metal, more in the sense of mastery of the low end. The record was an exercise in contrast, Justin's clean whisper-sung vocals drenched with droning, but not amelodic guitars. It was truly unique and one of the most memorable exercises in sound released last year.
With this followup EP, Broadrick has taken an even more ambitious angle. He combines the droning, buried melodies of Jesu with more “pop” arrangements; it sounds like Mogwai gone Godflesh on “Silver,” while he reaches his most accessible and catchy levels with “Star,” a song which takes a hook-filled vocal line over power-chords over a 1-2 rhythm. The third track on the EP, “Wolves” is probably the closest to a “traditional” Jesu song. The final track, a flutter of melodies peaking through effects-driven guitars, also ventures into the post-rock sound, drawing from Sonic Youth and the dynamics of Explosions in the Sky.
Besides Jesu, Broadrick also keeps busy as a remixer, contributing to the recent Isis remix compilation as well as a stunning remix of Pelican's “Angel Tears” which is, to this writer, perhaps the most essential track that Pelican has worked on in their burgeoning career. His ability to balance the noise and melody in those projects is even more starkly presented in Jesu; each note rings clearly and each of the many walls of sound is distinguishable and rendered perfectly.
With its four songs running nearly a half-hour, this is perhaps a contrast from the punchy, bite-size songs that many of us are accustomed to, but its iconoclastic mixture of heaviness and melody is truly awe-inspiring.