Jesu / Final
Silver / 3
Hydra Head / Neurot
A- / B
ustin Broadrick's track record is, to put it mildly, astounding. As a teenager he helped found Napalm Death, playing guitar on half of Scum, the 1987 album that arguably invented grindcore. He then left to join Head of David and Fall of Because, the latter of which sowed the seeds for Godflesh. Godflesh was a bleakly crushing juggernaut, the inverse of Napalm Death's flailing anarchy. Streetcleaner, Godflesh's debut album, is one of the most nihilistic records ever made: "Before we made Streetcleaner and even when I was in Napalm Death, we had this notion that we could change the world, this naïve sort of crap. But with Streetcleaner we sort of went to the other extreme: to the idea of cleaning the streets of all of us."
The "we" is misleading. Broadrick's projects have always hewed to his vision, and as his listening tastes changed, so did Godflesh's sound. Despite experiments with techno, hip-hop, and breakbeats, however, Godflesh's trademarks remained constant: monolithic riffs and pessimistic vocals fueled by copious ganja smoke. Between Godflesh albums, Broadrick undertook myriad side projects, including industrial-tinged hip-hop with Techno Animal and Ice, drum 'n' bass as Tech Level 2 and Youpho, and ambient experimentation as Final. He also appeared on albums by Mick Harris' Scorn and John Zorn's Painkiller, and remixed Pantera, Isis, and Pelican, among others. Broadrick might be the most productive stoner ever.
Godflesh called it quits in 2002, as Broadrick sought to escape the confines the band’s success created. The last track on Godflesh's final album, Hymns, was called "Jesu." Intrigued with the word's religious connotations, he adopted it as the name of a new project. When Broadrick talks about music, he uses words like "spirituality" and "transcendence." But his music is hardly soft or ethereal; Broadrick's message is liberation through volume, and his pulpit the throbbing amp. Accordingly, his production, no matter what style, has been more concerned with sound than songs.
Jesu just might change that. After Godflesh ended, Broadrick holed up in his studio for several years and made music solely to please himself. A limited-release EP surfaced in 2004, but Jesu made its mark the following year with a self-titled full-length. To Broadrick's surprise, the album became his most popular work in years. Jesu's foundation was Godflesh's droning guitars and lumbering drums, but Jesu added melody and an overall gentler feel. While Godflesh crushed listeners with distortion, Jesu immersed them in it. Instead of the desperate howl he unleashed in Godflesh, Broadrick sang melodically, running his voice through waves of effects. Jesu had a decided shoegazer influence; the textural vocals brought to mind My Bloody Valentine, while chord progressions occasionally recalled Ride. The album became a hipster favorite, and made many year-end Top 10 lists.
Silver should further Jesu's crossover appeal. Basically, Silver is Jesu gone pop, albeit through Broadrick's signature sonics. Thus, his huge guitars and heavy drums are intact. But his singing is even more melodic, keyboards are prominent in the mix, and for the first time ever, Broadrick's songs revolve around chord progressions, not static riffage. "Silver"’s blueprint is "Close My Eyes" from Ride's Smile EP, but Broadrick adds flawless production, harpsichord-like keyboards, and rich multi-part vocal harmonies. Yes, you read that right. Justin Broadrick is doing multi-part vocal harmonies. He's referencing the Beach Boys in interviews. He's writing actual songs. The apocalypse must be nigh.
"Star" is the biggest surprise here—it's fast. It's not Napalm Death fast, but it's practically a sprint compared to Broadrick's typically sloth-like tempos. The pogo-friendly beat is '80s-esque; imagine the drums of "Oh, Pretty Woman" at "I Melt With You" speed. Add chiming guitars and poignant vocals, and you have a veritable pop anthem; The Postal Service could have written this song. But Broadrick is still Broadrick. "Wolves" is a majestic dirge with spiky keyboards, and the shimmering guitars of "Dead Eyes" are nothing less than the second coming of Kevin Shields. Each song on Silver opens up Jesu's sound in tantalizing ways; the next Jesu full-length should be amazing.
Broadrick says of Silver, "It's perfect for drifting off and smoking too much dope." However, that more accurately describes 3, his new album as Final. The album is a long time coming; rumors of 3's release have circulated since 1999. The wait was worth it. A double-disc set containing over 140 minutes of music, it feels more like a catch-all collection than an album.
Most of the material is highly processed guitar sounds, like feedback and drones. While these tracks don't exactly have hooks, their sounds are distinctly recognizable. For the most part, each track consists of one of these sounds processed over the course of several minutes, with occasional counterpoint from keyboard melodies or other ambience. The processing is sophisticated, and ranks up there with anything in glitch/minimal techno. While beatless, the material isn't sleep-inducing. The tracks have a strong digital sheen to them; at high volumes, the sound can be harsh. There's not a bad track here, but "Laughing Stock" and "Confusion" stand out.