Release Date: May 10, 2011
Record label: Caldo Verde Records
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock, Post-Rock, Alternative Metal, Heavy Metal
Subliminally crushing and psychadelic, 'Ascension' is a stellar effort... If you thought the majestic, astral textures and spirit-shifting textures of 09’s ‘Infinity’ were enough to induce a psychedelic experience, then this follow-up is going to rouse you in all the right ways. A more acoustic affair, Justin Broadrick has again been experimenting with new tones via a new-found interest in the acoustic guitar, lending a very different sensory experience to the aptly-titled ‘Ascension’.
With their plaintive vocals backed by a churning, chiming multi-layered guitar drone that suggested My Bloody Valentine after a really, really bad day, Jesu were always one of the more intriguing prospects at the heavier end of the musical spectrum. And, so after some flirtations with electronica in recent years, Justin Broadrick, the band's driving force, has returned to the sound that made their early releases so arresting. That's not to say there aren't augmentations: their fourth album opens with an acoustic fakeout before a wall of noise swamps the listener; later, Sedatives could easily pass for a straight-up indie-rock song.
Is there music more epic on this earth than Justin K. Broadrick‘s? I know “epic” is an overused term in Interwebs discourse these days but with Ascension, Broadrick’s one-man project Jesu’s first conventional full-length since 2007’s drone-metal classic, Conqueror, even its short song titles inspire vision of a grand sweep (e.g.“King of Kings”, “Brave New World”). And Broadrick’s output justifies the word.
In 2009, when Justin K. Broadrick released Opiate Sun, he'd originally planned it as a double EP using his live and studio bands to play alternately on its four tracks. He ended up recording it himself. Opiate Sun was different from Jesu's predecessors in that Broadrick let his vocals fall out in front of his thick, sludgy melodic wall of guitars, feedback, downtuned basslines, and keyboards.
Here's something amazing: Napalm Death are still an ongoing concern. That band-- formed by bored, obsessive teenagers in mid-1980s Birmingham, England-- sped up death metal into a chaotic, borderline comical blur; their best-known early song is probably still the one-second John Peel favorite "You Suffer". The frenzied style that these kids pioneered came to be known as grindcore, and their debut album, Scum, is now regarded as a stone classic in underground metal.
In one sense, it seems odd that Jesu are on Mark Kozelek’s label Caldo Verde. The Sun Kil Moon/Red House Painters front man specializes in sad, slow songs with backings ranging from solo guitar to classic Crazy Horse crunch. Justin Broadrick, meanwhile, makes music that draws on doom metal, shoegaze, noise and similar genres. But what the two artists have in common is a commitment to finding new nuances in the same emotional and sonic ground that they’ve each been tilling for decades now.
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.
The third full-length from Jesu, the shoegazing dreamcatcher of Godflesh mastermind Justin Broadrick, is his most spacious and delicate yet. He dials down the suffocating distortion and sludgy bluster, but loses none of his euphoric cloud surfing—instead of landing like sucker-punches, his guitars now chime like church bells. Even his singing voice has gone from a heart-tugging bellow to a starry-eyed croon reminiscent of labelmate Alan Sparhawk (of especially tender indie band, and Neurosis buddies, Low).