Album Review: Jesu, Lifeline EP

[from Metal Heavy, October 14, 2007]

For all its niceties and hints of new possibility, there may no more dismissive or wrongly applied term than “experimental.” By definition, an experiment is a step in an empirical scientific pursuit. Hypotheses are either proved or disproved. Situations are controlled. Validity is a known quantity. Objectivity reigns supreme.

Jesu - Lifeline EP coverSimilarly, no one has ever really come up with a good definition of what constitutes “heavy” music either. Is it high volume? Two-ton guitar work? Satan? Doom? Gloom? Considering Jesu bandleader Justin Broadrick’s history in speed pioneers Napalm Death, and later at the helm of techno-metal heroes Godflesh, you have to lend certain credence to the idea that the guy knows what he’s doing when it comes to the idea of making an album that goes for the jugular. When terms like “experimental metal” are being thrown about, it’s hard not to be curious.

Then you remember it’s been five years since Godflesh’s dissolution, and that Broadrick left Napalm Death two decades ago. And that’s where the Lifeline EP comes in.

From the opening drone of the title track, it’s obvious the one-man-with-occasional-help band has absolutely no intention of resurrecting the sound and style of his former employers. Anyone looking for two-second songs or one-minute audio belligerence is going to be very disappointed when they hear the spaced-out soundscapes and plodding electronic percussion that shape this release. Sure, the distortion knobs are all turned up to 11, but where most bands would use the fuzz as a weapon, Jesu employs it as just another dimension in the seemingly infinite space and texture of the disc’s four songs. In the case of Jesu’s sometimes difficult-to-digest output, less may almost be too much, but at 23 minutes it’s at least a taste made easier to acquire. And despite all that, the songs are able to hit as hard as any unnecessary double-bass, pointless down-tuning or idiotic soloing ever could.

With Lifeline, Broadrick has found a way to make heavy music that is completely devoid of speed, riffs, evil, or any of the other allegedly necessary ingredients in the decades-old recipe. Some camps have long decried the death of that school of music, but Jesu at least takes a stab at moving on past it. This isn’t heavy in the way it hits you; this is heavy in the way it pulls you down. By the same token, Lifeline is really not all that experimental, but instead just really weird, albeit in a highly interesting and mostly enjoyable way.

Call it space-metal for the Red House Painters set. Call it doom metal for the Joy Division crowd or post-industrial avant pop. Call it whatever you like; any way you phrase it, Jesu continues to make a strong case for quitting your job. Justin Broadrick has come a long way from his formative years as a grindcore innovator, and the Lifeline EP proves that’s a very good thing indeed.