Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Jesu - Heart Ache & Dethroned (Album Review)

Jesu - Heart Ache & Dethroned
Release date: November 16, 2010 (Hydra Head Records)

Justin K. Broadrick is more than capable of releasing a masterpiece. Godflesh's Streetcleaner and Jesu's Conqueror spring to mind immediately, to say nothing of the former band's criminally underrated swan song, Hymns, a near-perfect transitional album that closed the Godflesh chapter of Broadrick's career and set the tone for the future with the aptly named closing track, "Jesu." Despite these lofty achievements, what really makes Broadrick such an amazing artist is that, even when he makes an album that is not up to his usual standards of excellence (like, say, Us and Them), there are still those moments of brilliance (like, say, "Witchhunt") that keep you coming back for more.

Such is the case with Jesu's latest release, Heart Ache & Dethroned. That's not to say that it's a bad album. It's actually very, very good, but Broadrick has set the bar so high for himself over the years that, for longtime fans of his work, "very good" means "mildly disappointing." As an added caveat, it's not even the music itself that makes this a ho-hum release; it's just the fact that most of it is six years old and a big chunk of it has been previously released.

True, Jesu's 2004 debut EP, Heart Ache, has been out of print for a while now, so it's nice to see Hydra Head give it a proper re-release. Then again, in this day and age of torrents and file sharing sites, "out of print" just means the artist isn't making any money off of it anymore. It's probably safe to assume that most-die hard Jesu fans have already come across a copy of the EP, either by paying a ridiculous markup on a used import copy or simply downloading it. Thus, the real selling point for this release is the inclusion of the Dethroned EP, four songs that Broadrick started working on in 2004 and just recently put the finishing touches on.

If HA&D is ultimately going to be judged just by the final four songs, then it's a bit of a mixed bag. The first two unreleased songs, "Dethroned" and "Annul," sound the most dated. Neither is particularly bad. They're just standard-issue Jesu, circa 2004. Things get significantly more interesting with "Aureated Skin," which is the standout track of the entire release, the two 20-minute halves of Heart Ache included. The shimmering keyboards and soaring, multi-layered guitar riffs on "Aureated Skin" are most reminiscent of Jesu's recent, more melodic work. The sparse, stripped-down closing track, "I Can Only Disappoint You," sees Broadrick doing his best Trent Reznor impression, and he does it pretty well, even if it starts to drag a little at seven minutes long.

For Broadrick completists or Jesu fans who don't already have Heart Ache in some form, this release is a no-brainer. Hell, even if you already have Heart Ache, it's worth a purchase just for "Aureated Skin." The only problem is, that song is so good, you'll wish there were more like it. Maybe on the next batch of new songs...

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