Jesu is a group that’s best work occurs in the EP format. Stylistically, Justin K. Broadrick and Co. have roots in metal, in shoegaze and in ambient drone, and they’ve tended to use their EPs as labs of a sort, allowing them room to experiment, blending ratios to varying results. Silver, from 2006, is a majestic collection of four songs, suitable for crushing volumes, but also capable of triggering a trancelike sense of the infinite. More recently, 2009’s Opiate Sun achieved a similar balance of volume and transcendence, and threw in a greater sense of melodic textures; it seemed no accident that it was released on a label run by Mark Kozelek. And so it seems fitting that Jesu’s latest release is, in fact, a conjoined pair of EPs that in some ways hearkens back to the band’s earliest years.
Heart Ache & Dethroned finds Broadrick in a period of musical re-evaluation. Late 2010 saw the release of Jesu: Pale Sketches Demixed under the Pale Sketcher moniker, in which Jesu songs were reworked, their tendencies toward bliss increased even as they were given a more overtly electronic feel. The two EPs that comprise this album (though that term is, in the case of Heart Ache, used to refer to a 40-minute work) each have their roots in Jesu’s beginnings. The two songs on Heart Ache are the earliest recordings from this project of Broadrick’s, while Dethroned‘s four songs were initially recorded in 2004 and completed six years later.
Of the six songs heard here, Dethroned‘s “Aureated Skin” is the highlight. Rather than flattening the listener, it opts for a more nuanced structure. It’s loud, but also melodic and restrained, with Broadrick’s vocals at their most subtle. Sonically, it’s not too far removed from Ferment-era Catherine Wheel. There’s a sinuous melody that runs through the song, distinct from the rhythms and the more pulse-like ebbs and flows. You can hear echoes of Jesu’s subsequent discography on “Heart Ache” — eight minutes in, a taut riff kicks in that will sound familiar to anyone who’s spent time with the Pale Sketcher album. Yet “Heart Ache” sounds less like one epic song and more of a collage, from harsh noise to explorations of a more shoegaze-influenced style. Here — as on “Ruined,” which follows it — the transitions between sections feel overly jarring. And while the slow, overlapping trickle of Broadrick’s vocals at the end makes for a fine conclusion, you get the sense “Heart Ache” wasn’t structured to accumulate power.
This collection stands as an odd object — somewhere between a historical document and a fresh statement. Of its two components, Dethroned makes for the stronger half, and that’s reassuring in its own way: in a work that weds older material with newer contributions, it’s encouraging to find that the high points come from the latter.