In light of the bevy of EPs, remixes, reissues and side projects Justin Broadrick has released lately, it’s unbelievable that four years have snuck by since we last got a proper song-based album out of Broadrick’s current flagship project Jesu. Jesu’s last offering was 2009’s Infinity, a slow-burning fifty-minute epic that was a slight departure for the band in the way it tempered Jesu’s trademark musculature with the throaty screamed vocals and blast beats of Broadrick’s early career exploits, as well as the ambient landscapes of Broadrick side projects like Final. Jesu’s third proper full length, Ascension, is something of a corrective after the long form experiment of Infinity. It feels like a conscious return to the comparatively punchier, softer (for Jesu) songs of 2007’s Conqueror.
Titanic and heavy as Ascension is, it’s easy to forget that these songs are created from so few building blocks. Lead single “Birth Day” is only a guitar, drums, a synth, and piano, and Broadrick’s spectral vocals hanging low in the mix like an afterthought. There isn’t anything here with much more going on than that, and yet everything sounds so huge. Chalk it up to Broadrick’s talents as a producer, and particularly, his way with guitars. Ascension’s mix is mostly guitars, with their scant accompaniment struggling to breathe beneath all the sludge. The technique works best on a song like “Broken Home,” whose trebly, wonky synth line darts in and out of its methodical, chugging riff while Justin’s hushed vocals add a hint of color and emotion.
Jesu is more about vibes and textures than anything, it would seem by now. Each of Ascension’s ten tracks is a slab of glacial, cloudy guitar rock doused in an impenetrable cloak of fuzz. Even if the sound and scope of the project are somewhat monolithic, the album does contain a few stabs at new directions. The uncharacteristically upbeat and poppy zest of the ironically titled “Sedatives” sets a record in beats for minute in a Jesu song. Where “Sedatives” succeeds in expanding upon the framework, the bluesy “December” falters. Broadrick’s band is just a little too rigid to pull off the blues. All’s told, though, it’s a minor misstep in an album full of fuzzed out, blissed out, downright lovely tunes.
Even if, three albums and a wealth of EPs and remixes in, we’ve seen every card Justin Broadrick is willing to play under the Jesu moniker, the band’s signature brand of thoughtful sludge metal is still instrumental in revealing the softer side of the metal elder statesman at its helm. Ascension doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but it’s a welcome addition to the Jesu canon.