Jesu’s self-titled debut is eight tracks of slow-motion riffage, lurching drums and barely there vocals — definitely not the musical formula for your typical pop record. But Jesu is a pop record, it’s just not one that will be confused with what the New Pornographers or Stereolab put out. This is pop filtered through the sensibilities of restless underground icon Justin Broadrick, who essentially is Jesu. Broadrick is best known as the leader of the now-defunct industrial juggernaut Godflesh, though he’s been releasing enigmatic music under various guises (including the nihilistic hip-hop of Techno Animal) for more than two decades, first gaining notoriety as a drummer for Napalm Death. It comes as no surprise, then, that Jesu is a brooding, supremely heavy record, steeped in layers of overlapping guitar sound and rarely moving above a pace that could be generously described as “plodding.”
What is surprising is just how vulnerable, emotional and strangely catchy the eight songs on Jesu are. It’s as if Broadrick first wrote a batch of emo-tinged, mid-tempo hard-rock songs then actively set out to destroy them. The result — musical compositions stomped flat, buried in layers of noise and sounding as though they’re being played at the wrong speed — takes some getting used to. But once you get accustomed to Jesu’s musical universe, it all starts to make sense. What at first listen seemed to be an unyielding lump of oppressive and depressing noise becomes something else entirely. Genuinely catchy melodies defiantly extricate themselves from the muck, like weeds poking through the asphalt. This creates the same sort of emotional uplift provided by post-rock bands like Slint or Mogwai, in which stark minor-key atmospherics still manage to exude an air of hope and eventual victory.
The aptly-named opener, “Your Path to Divinity,” sets the tone. Four minutes of determined dirge-like stomp give way to airy vocals and trebly ringing tones. The drums fall out of the mix eventually, leaving less a song than an ethereal drone left to dissipate in mid-air. This track gives way to the harder-edged “Friends Are Evil,” in which a loop of crackling, stuttering guitar is used to great effect, recalling Broadrick’s work creating claustrophobic hip-hop as Techno Animal. The only song that outdoes “Friends Are Evil” in the heaviness department is the album’s seventh track, “Man/Woman,” whose chugging guitars and screamed vocals bring to mind nu-metal, if nu-metal acts had the balls to stop whining and instead explore psychic pain via truly unmitigated catharsis.
is far less about aggression than it is about fragility. Beneath each song’s seemingly impenetrable exterior is a delicate emotional center, which is especially apparent in the regretful “We All Faulter” and the soaring “Sun Day.” By the time closer “Guardian Angel” ends with three minutes of blissed-out feedback, it’s apparent that with Jesu, Broadrick has created a truly original record: a surprising synthesis of pop, metal, drone and post-rock, the likes of which have not been done before.