Jesu – Opiate Sun EP

January 01, 1970

(Caldo
Verde)

 

www.caldoverderecords.com

 

One
may suspect, with some justification, that part of the reason Mark Kozelek (of
Sun Kil Moon and Red House Painters) formed his own record label was as much
about packaging as it was music.  Jesu’s
new Opiate Sun EP is a very different
kind of music than most of what’s been released on Caldo Verde to date, but the
stark, striking back and white photography of its cover image and the almost sumptuously
simple design and typography of the rest of the EP continues the label’s
tradition of offering albums that are beautiful objects as much as they are
anything else.

 

Of
course, for most of his career the idea of Justin K. Broadrick producing a
beautiful object would have been a laughable one.  Beginning with brief apprenticeships in
Napalm Death and Head of David, Broadrick’s been ploughing various kind of
determinedly ugly furrows for decades now, fusing doom metal and industrial
music as Godflesh and exploring power electronics and brutal ambience as
Final.  In 2003 after winding Godflesh
down, Broadrick formed (and largely comprises) Jesu; with occasional help from
Ted Parsons on drums and Diarmuid Dalton on bass, Broadrick started out playing
a kind of monolithic, crushingly heavy but strongly melodic doom metal on
Jesu’s 2005 self-titled debut. 

 

Jesu was remarkably consistent and affecting over its
75 minutes, but Broadrick almost immediately changed tack; much of what Jesu
has done since takes the subtler shoegaze elements of the debut and foregrounds
them, meaning that at this point a typical Jesu track (if there is such a thing
– releases like 2009’s 50 minute “Infinity” make it clear that
Broadrick is still determined to do whatever he wants) is as striking for how
pretty it is as anything else.  That’s
not a slight – Broadrick’s music is still made up of slow-motion volcanoes of
guitar and enough fuzz to choke a horse – but I’d bet that the majority of
metalheads would no longer recognize something like Opiate Sun as one of their own (and not just because, a strong
self-deprecating/depressive streak aside, Jesu has never had much to do with
metal’s usual lyrical concerns).

 

For
better or worse, though, Broadrick’s exploration of his own potent blend of
melody and noise hasn’t always been as satisfying as the toweringly powerful Jesu was.  2007’s Conqueror album, in particular, was a solid effort that was still slightly underwhelming,
as if he hadn’t quite figured out yet how to take Jesu in a more accessible direction
without seeming hesitant.  Or maybe it’s
just that, the debut aside, Jesu works best in an EP format; the Silver and Lifeline EPs both worked superbly, and in general Jesu’s sound is
so overwhelming and unvaried that 20-30 minutes might be the best length to
experience them at.

 

Opiate Sun, which sees Broadrick returning to his
occasional habit of playing, producing and writing everything on a given
release by himself, certainly presents a compelling argument that four songs
and 25 minutes is near ideal for Jesu; it’s more than enough time to luxuriate
in the surprising richness of the sound and Broadrick’s increasingly strong
melodies without succumbing to a headache or crescendo fatigue.  The EP starts strongly with “Losing
Streak,” Broadrick’s usual multi-tracked, half-muttered vocals lamenting
“and we’ll never see your face again” while the instrumental breakdowns
give us one of his strongest, most off-kilter guitar hooks.  The title track opens with a riff that shows
why Kozelek might have gotten interested in Jesu; it’s not a million miles away
from some of his Neil Young-influenced guitar sorties on Red House Painters
songs, albeit slowed to a rolling boil and amped up with distortion.  And “Deflated” continues Jesu’s
examination of using heavy music as a backdrop for personal soul searching
rather than metal’s usual themes – certainly I can’t think of many other songs
that use chugging, drop-tuned guitars as a backdrop for repeated pleas to
“give us hope.”

 

Final
track “Morning Light” is the closest thing Opiate Sun has to a non-standout number, and even that just means
that it’s only as strong as most good Jesu songs (and a few minutes shorter to
boot).  And as this EP makes clear,
that’s very strong indeed.

 

Standout Tracks: “Losing Streak,” “Opiate
Sun” IAN MATHERS

 

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