Jesu – Conquerer
Record Label: Hydra Head Records
Release Date: February 20th 2007
The second full length from Jesu (pronounced “yay-zu”) is a tough album to categorize. At times it borders on melodic genius, displaying an impressive amount of emotion and aggression buried underneath the droning guitars, while at other times sounding a little too long winded for its own good. The album (and band for that matter) is the brainchild of Justin Broadrick, who took the band name from the last song on his former band, Godflesh’s final disc. Unlike his first EP, which he played all instruments on, Justin enlisted the help of bassist Diarmuid Dalton and drummer Ted Parsons to contribute to the slow-paced ambience that is Conqueror. While it may break new ground in its execution by incorporating endearing vocals and a genuine groove into the lengthy tracks, the album is also a testament to the old adage that, sometimes, there can be too much of a good thing.
A swelling pulse of keyboard is the first sound heard on Conqueror, sending the signal that this is no ordinary ambient metal album. Where are the crushing guitars? No heavy screams? Is this even a metal album? Well, kind of. One aspect of Jesu flawlessly exemplified when listening to the sophomore effort is that this band is all about subtlety. In place of the heavy screams, Broadrick’s delivery has a pleasant affect, both soft spoken and entrancing, that evokes the same heartfelt passion as the most brutal of screams. The guitars do not have to be fast paced to be heavy and Jesu find a way to portray this by creating massive walls of detuned sound that break stereotypes of what hard music can be. Many of the songs trade the darkness of dirge metal for a lighter approach that, at points, could even be considered hopeful. The vocal flourishes of the title track, “Conqueror” are an excellent example of how a seemingly out of place delivery can be exactly what is needed to take the song to the next level. The earnest way in which the words are spoken pays homage to the shoegazer movement and might even convert some people who do not consider themselves fans of alternative metal. The album is full of these moments that cover the entire spectrum, somehow managing to sound sorrowful while the ascending guitar lines donate an unmistakably positive vibe to the journey. Sometimes, it is easy to get lost in the songs due to their repetitive riffs and hypnotic vocals that create an atmosphere unlike any other bands out there. Nowhere is this more apparent than on the 10-minute epic “Weightless And Horizontal” that acts as the creative backbone of Conqueror. The swirling piece encompasses the 90’s sound that clearly influenced Broadrick’s writing style, sonically pushing Jesu further away from the shadow cast by his former bands.
With every positive aspect comes a negative to bring it down. Unfortunately, the lack of variety hinders Conqueror from becoming a classic. Broadrick probably made a conscious decision to try not to vary the feel of each song and that is fine, but when tracks average in at 7 minutes apiece, it is tough not to feel like everything sounds a little too similar. The first 3 tracks are a breath of fresh air, but by the time the album hits its halfway point, that air starts to get a little stale. Listening to this album piecemeal could be a potential solution to that problem, but such measures should not have to be taken. The songs are by no means bad, but after 56 minutes, the same slow beat, feather light vocals, and instrumentation can grow tired and too familiar. Conqueror is a worthy follow-up to Jesu’s self titled debut and if nothing else, acts as proof that Justin Broadrick does not need to live in the aggressive bubble of former bands Godflesh and his brief stint with Napalm Death. It is not disappointing; it just does not break any new ground as far as the progression of Jesu’s music. The “don’t fix what isn’t broken attitude” predominantly serves Broadrick well, but ultimately this persistence is also the downfall of Conqueror, preventing it from being elevated to the level of ambient metal nirvana.