Jesu - Ascension
Caldo Verde Records
Ambient Shoegaze, Drone
10 songs (1:01:30)
Release year: 2011
Reviewed by Goat

Created as an outlet for emotions from the breakup of Godflesh and still going four albums and countless EPs later, some might question the relevance of this project in a world where JK Broadrick’s former band is slowly resurrecting itself. Despite the disappointment shown with many over Jesu’s somewhat bland material since 2007’s excellent Conqueror, I’ve kept a soft spot for this band, a soft spot that finds much solace in Ascension. At first seeming a deceptively long way from the post-industrial rattle-and hum of 2005’s mournful Jesu, this album opens with the eight minute Fools, in a folksy way with soft acoustic guitar and gentle vocals from Justin, who seems to be channelling his singer-songwriter persona like never before. That is, until the guitars come rushing in, thick layers of ambience wrapped around said vocals like a suffocating yet comforting blanket, noisy and rough yet unmistakably soft and pleasant to listen to – a balancing act Broadrick proves as adept at here as ever.

Ascension never threatens the listener except with noise and the occasional joyous clunking doom riff, content to exude near-constant melodious soundscapes. The starry-eyed plinking of Birth Day is like Coldplay but good, simple melodies given weight and emotion with a stellar vocal performance – Broadrick’s clean singing is pretty damn good considering the tuneless squawking we once heard from his throat – and added metallic heaviness through slow, crushing guitar riffs. Those who fell away from Jesu in recent years will find much to love here, even with the sometimes rather poppy facade being bolted over the doom crunch like a poorly-applied new coat of paint on rusted old playground equipment. As that cover art shows, there’s still a heavy vein of melancholy running through the music that Broadrick mines ruthlessly, never failing to extract maximum emotional value from a given moment. Listen to how that backing rhythm section in Sedatives has a groovy stomp to it, the track sounding like my fantasy of what the Manic Street Preachers would sound like now if Richey Edwards never vanished, and the moments of throbbing industrialism in Brave New World fit so well with the surrounding serene acoustic strums that it’s hard not to be drawn in.

As with any album that comes in at over an hour long, with tracks mostly between five and eight minutes in length, in the wrong mood Ascension can be repetitive if not downright tiresome. Moments like Broken Home will either feel like Jesu-by-numbers or will be embraced as full of genius as ever, depending on the listener. Yet for every ambiguous track like this, there are several as beautiful and effective as Black Lies, almost psychedelic-tinged strums building the song into a tuneful anthem. The way that this subtly slides in to the laid-back Small Wonder is superb, as is the perfect pace that December strikes and holds for minutes, grasping you gently but firmly with its small hand and ensuring that your attention is kept on it with childlike earnestness.

This really is the successor that Conqueror deserved, the only downside being that Broadrick seems more content in retreading old territory than striking out for new worlds. Some added experiments would work wonders – but it says a lot for the man’s songwriting abilities that Ascension is as good as it is and has such a wonderful killer/filler ratio. It’s easy to forget what a lovely thing music can be when your attention is filled with gnarly death metal, and little moments like the closing title track here are a great reminder of how even instrumentals can tug at the heartstrings. Rough, yet wonderfully smooth, strange yet all too familiar, Jesu are becoming a cherished institution in the metal world, and I for one hope Broadrick can keep them going even as his focus is taken by new Godflesh and Final recordings.

Killing Songs :
Birth Day, Sedatives, Brave New World, Black Lies, Small Wonder, December
Goat quoted 80 / 100
Other albums by Jesu that we have reviewed:
Jesu - Every Day I Get Closer to the Light From Which I Came reviewed by Goat and quoted 75 / 100
Jesu - Opiate Sun reviewed by James and quoted no quote
Jesu - Infinity reviewed by James and quoted 52 / 100
Jesu - Silver (EP) reviewed by Adam and quoted no quote
Jesu - Heart Ache reviewed by Aaron and quoted no quote
To see all 7 reviews click here
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