Jesu Conqueror

[Hydra Head; 2007]

Styles: shoegaze, bliss-pop with a metal crunch
Others: My Bloody Valentine, Deftones, Pelican, early Starflyer 59

I had my doubts when the universally praised Silver EP came out. I remembered Justin Broadrick from his time served in an early incarnation of Napalm Death and his more well-known band Godflesh, but Jesu’s move to pop was questionable. Silver was overly emotional and even a bit precious despite its guitar crunch. I wasn’t ready to sing Jesu’s praises just yet, especially since it felt like nothing more than an early ’90s indie-rock throwback with doom metal-level guitars, and surprisingly, that’s not enough to get my jollies off these days.

Enter Conqueror. What Silver began in earnest, Conqueror refines with varying results. Above all, Broadrick can no doubt write a pop song in the tradition of unlikely or unrealized pop songwriters. Both the title track and “Transfigure” are solid through and through, even if the latter sounds like a thicker, slower Deftones (actually, that’s not a bad thing at all). Or “Medicine,” which -- if stripped of its metallic guitar crunch, long instrumental section, and Ted Parsons’ (Prong, Swans, Godflesh) cymbal-heavy percussion -- would be the mopiest indie-pop song ever. In terms of songcraft, My Bloody Valentine’s poppier Isn’t Anything comes to mind more than Loveless, even though Jesu definitely has the “wall of sound” thing going on.

Then there’s the transcendent “Weightless & Horizontal,” possibly the most spot-on ode to The Cure’s Disintegration this decade. Its plodding synth strings are the dead giveaway, and Broadrick masterfully mixed them at the same volume as the noticeably less metallic guitar. This is exactly what I wanted Jesu to become: a realization that serene heaviness does not have to mean thick riffage. I can forgive the dramatic palm-muting around the six-minute mark as it builds to the climax and Broadrick’s desperate mantra, “Try never to lose yourself.” Hell, I can even forgive the twinkling Christmas-lights Jimmy Eat World outro, but I certainly won’t encourage it any further.

Jesu, as much as folks already proclaiming Conqueror “bliss metal” want to believe otherwise, isn’t onto anything new or fresh here. (Specifically, I think of Starflyer 59’s coincidentally nicknamed Silver as a prime example of a simultaneously ethereal and heavy record with loud guitars.) Broadrick’s bold pop experiment contains plenty of flaws. “Medicine,” as much as I can imagine it as a great indie-pop song, awkwardly pits detuned palm-muting against a weak vocal performance, and the nearly cheesy “Mother Earth” tries too hard at another Cure song. Jesu puts its best foot forward when it's not trying to reign in its curious metal-head audience and instead forgoes the metal-gaze for a more genuine long-form pop song. That’s when your hairs stand up.

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