Jesu - Ascension (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick


Ascension (2011)

Caldo Verde

Just as the even-numbered Star Trek films are best (minus Nemesis), a similar constant governs Jesu releases. The full-lengths are always better. While frontman/multi-instrumentalist Justin Broadrick has released a string of EPs ranging in quality since 2007's shoegaze/metal masterpiece Conqueror, his new full-length, Ascension, is the true sequel fans have waited for. It's a mighty fine record, proving that Jesu isn't just noise and stoner drone rock.

It takes a couple tracks to prove that, though. Opener "Fools" toys a little with the Jesu formula via acoustic guitar, but it still sounds like typical Jesu: lengthy intro, long dirges and Broadrick's plaintive vocals guide the track. "Birth Day" sounds like a Conqueror B-side, laden with ambient keyboards and the slowest drumbeat of 2011. Then "Sedatives" kicks in.

The production on the first two Jesu tracks has a certain J. Robbins (ex-Jawbox/Burning Airlines/Channels/Government Issue) vibe. "Sedatives" is a straightforward rocker cloaked in shoegaze guitar, and it has all the uplift I associate with Robbins' later work, even if it is a few BPMs short of Jawbox territory. Jesu is known for being experimental, but "Sedatives" is a rock throwback that reaffirms Broadrick's mastery. The lyrics are a little on the goth side ("You give life and then don't feed it"), but they suit the style. "Sedatives" is a big surprise after a seemingly endless string of 20-minute ambient electronic song structures over the last few years.

"Broken Home" returns to classic Jesu, but "Brave New World" and "Black Lies" kick the record's second half back into the Jawbox vein before "Ascension" calmly plays the listener out. Ascension's biggest asset is its energy. While the casual listener will probably go, "Yep, this is Jesu," fans should be excited by the sense of purpose in these songs. The drums are thunderous; the guitars roar. Broadrick keeps the vocals a little low in the mix in true shoegaze fashion, striking a balance between ambience and dissonance.

When Jesu dropped the 50-minute single track "Infinity" in 2009, Broadrick insisted that it wasn't the true sequel to Conqueror. At the time, I tried taking that on good faith, even though part of me thought he was backpedaling since "Infinity" wasn't nearly as good as Conqueror. With Ascension's release, I see that he wasn't lying. It really is the sequel that took four years to complete.