Review Summary: Jesu's second album is a welcome addition to legend of Justin Broadrick and further proves his immense talent. Crushing, beautiful and layered, [i]Conqueror[/i] is an extremely worthwhile album for anyone with interest.
For a few years now, bands like Isis, Kayo Dot, Sunn O))) and (perhaps to a lesser extent) Between the Buried and Me have been working furiously to change their audience's perception of what a metal band can be. While their individual styles vary drastically, all produce forward-thinking music that is undeniably rooted in metal. Since their self-titled release, Jesu's Justin Broadrick has also been working in his own way to achieve the same goal. Jesu are ploddingly slow and heavy and, by most accounts, a far more personal project for Broadrick than anything he has done in the past. Conqueror
is the second Jesu album and most probably the lightest, poppiest thing that the former Napalm Death/Godflesh member has ever created.
At first, Conqueror
may not seem too different to the self-titled album or the Silver
EP. Broadrick, however, has opted to make subtle changes to Jesu's sound rather than drastic ones, meaning that there is a lot more to Conqueror
than first meets the ear. To begin with, the album's production is sounds far more natural than the s/t and far less processed. This is due to the more natural production on the drums and to a lesser extent, the guitars. Broadrick's vocals are far more prominent in the mix, to the extent that each word of every song is completely discernable. That's not to say that the vocals are more immediate, they still float above the instruments in an airy manner, retaining the dream-like quality of past Jesu releases. Musically, Conqueror
is perhaps the most dense Jesu release, with layers of reverb and delay on almost every instrument in every song. By that same token, Conqueror
is extremely melodic, placing subtle layers of melody between loud guitars and drums and sheets of noise. There also appears to be a greater presence of synthesisers on Conqueror
. Often contributing to the melodies and sometimes simply creating 'atmosphere', the simple synth sounds of Conqueror
contribute to the feel of the songs and give them a space-like vibe, not unlike a lot of the more popular shoegaze acts of the 90s.
Although most of the songs here are extremely melodic, the slow tempos do an effective job of masking the melody, letting it give way to the album's more immediate purposes; atmosphere and emotional outlet. Broadrick does a beautiful job of making his emotions known on each of the album's 8 cuts and provides a thick atmosphere, inviting the listener to join in on his experience. The tracks are so slow that melodies can be lost on the listener who becomes hypnotised by the atmosphere created by the album's powerful drumming, 'wall-of-sound' guitars and space-like synthesisers. The end result is that the album feels like the sonic equivalent of floating in space or water. Perhaps the best example is the album's centrepiece and longest song, "Weightless & Horizontal", which is extremely drawn out, but stays interesting for all of its 10-minute playing time. The track begins with Broadrick's melancholy tenor repeating the words "try not to lose yourself" over some doomy chords. This shifts and unfolds for about 5 minutes until the song's midpoint, which drops back to just some synthesisers. Soon enough, the rest of the instruments make their way back in, but playing an entirely new (and gorgeously uplifting) chord progression that lies beneath the original lyrics and melody that Broadrick sang at the song's commencement. The song builds until its climax, a riff played by both the guitar and synthesiser with little accompaniment from the drums or vocals. The song's 10 minutes completely draining, but once the song reaches its conclusion, wonderfully fulfilling.
One of Conqueror
's very few flaws is perhaps its lack of variety. Variety is obviously not what Broadrick is going for with Jesu, and that's fine, but while the songs are varied enough in terms of melody and chord structures, they are all essentially heavy, melodic, slow and dense. While this creates an amazing atmosphere and is approached in such a way that Jesu's sound is completely unique to them, it can wear thin on a listener who is more interested in the album's 'actual songs'. For this reason, it might have been nice if Broadrick and co had included something less dense (perhaps an instrumental of some sort) towards the middle of the album. On the other hand, to do so may well have detracted from the atmosphere that the album creates and for those who find themselves drawn in by the sounds created here (no doubt Broadrick's intended audience) may have found the inclusion of such a piece a detraction.
All of this to say that Jesu are a unique entity that don't belong to any particular 'scene', though they will appeal to the members of many. Conqueror
is brutal, lush, atmospheric, dense, melodic and hopelessly beautiful. Aptly titled, Conqueror
is quite likely one of the most uplifting and personal metal albums of the decade. It might not be appropriate to say that Conqueror
is better than the band's self-titled record as there isn't a whole lot of difference between, but it is at least on the same level and the difference between the two is enough to make Conqueror
a worthwhile purchase for anyone who owns Jesu's other releases. For the uninitiated, Conqueror
is marginally the most accessible Jesu release yet and well worth picking up for anyone interested.