Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Review: JESU, Lifeline

*soon to be published on MetalReview.com

Fucking hell, Justin Broadrick is one prolific sonofabitch. In 2007 alone, he’s managed to put out a full-length album (Conqueror), two EPs, a split with like-minded ambient act Eluvium, and a rarities compilation (Pale Sketches), while (finally!) making it across the pond for his first U.S. tour. Even more impressively, all of the aforementioned releases are all quality pieces of work, with nary a dud among them and enough dusky drone-pop ambience to keep you lowering your eyelids and gently nodding your head until the cows slowly float home.

The most recent of these efforts, the four-song Lifeline EP (courtesy of Hydra Head Records), is a fairly typical Jesu release. You’ve got your soft shoegazey pop melodies, interwoven with diffused, faraway vocals and melded with that familiar quiet ambience wrapped around droning, looped riffs and flashes of brilliant heaviness; deceptively-simple song structures belie the true complexity buried beneath the dreaminess. Broadrick is a master of his craft – no one sounds like Jesu, yet Jesu is made up of so many other sounds and textures that almost anyone can find something to hold onto and appreciate. It’s a far cry from Godflesh, and an even farther one from Napalm Death, but Jesu very well may be Broadrick at his best, or at least, at his most fertile.

One of the defining characteristics of Lifeline is the guest appearance by former Swans vocalist/keyboardist and multi-faceted vocal icon Jarboe. A damn near legend in her own right, she seems to have a fondness for working with “difficult,” experimental bands (see her excellent collaborations with Neurosis, Byla and countless others – or, hell, have you HEARD the Swans? ‘Nuff said). Jarboe’s throaty, whispery, ethereal, and completely incomparable voice is so distinctive and powerful that one might expect it to overpower the song itself, but her performance manages to complement “Storm Comin’ On” much better than you may expect. Broadrick’s vague dashes of electronica and light-fingered industrial touches provide a subdued background of sleepy, minimal sound for Jarboe’s vocals to shine against, ensuring that few will forget “Storm Comin’ On” after those almost-six minutes creep by. As far as the rest of the EP goes, the title track, "Lifeline," stands out an especially beautiful exercise in ambience that ebbs and flows and gently washes over you in the nicest way possible. The other two songs on this effort are more standard Jesu fare – still lovely, still well-executed, just a bit shadowed by the Jarboe track and the genuine loveliness of "Lifeline."

Considering how much damn music Justin Broadrick puts out (he’s gotta be edging up on Xasthur’s similarly-ridiculous release record by now), I’m not sure if its really necessary to pick up this EP; he’ll probably have another full-length out tomorrow and follow it up with a couple dozen EPs just for good measure. However, EPs are generally pretty cheap anyway, and this one is chock full of some righteous tunes; I’d say that the Jarboe track alone makes it worth the purchase price, while the other three songs are just icing on the sonic cake. For those who are less familiar with the band, I’d recommend first checking out the self-titled debut album and Silver EP, then forging onwards at your leisure.

Jesu is breathtaking, and that’s really all you can say.

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