On the second Jesu full-length -- following up the critically acclaimed Silver EP -- Justin Broadrick, who has worn as many hats (artist, producer, engineer, DJ, etc.) and played with as many sounds as is possible in his career and the man isn't even half done -- does a near 180 at distancing himself from his influential days founding speed metal freaks Napalm Death and industrial forefathers Godflesh and cocks a firm ear backwards toward the '90s while still pointing his "heaviness" Geiger counter ever forward. There are eight cuts on Conqueror, all of them deeply melodic, ploddingly slow, and emotionally melancholic. It's no longer about metal that's punishing nor is being purposely obnoxious and irritating (though the more musically conservative black-clad metal hordes might be offended by this) but rather, about digging deep into the well of the heart for what's actually true for the songwriter (at least for right now). While the former was another of the man's trademarks, the latter is where he's moved toward -- just a tad -- with more subtlety all along. The nod to the past comes from apparently listening to the early records of Ride, Catherine Wheel, and the like -- yeah, yeah, the shoegazers, though they were never, ever this heavy. Distorted blurring guitars, rangy, space-noise programming, low-end dirge tempo basslines (courtesy of Diarmuid Dalton) and a basic, force-driven tribal thud with shimmering, cymbals for balance (by Ted Parsons).
That said, on the surface, Conqueror plays along the same lines as both the self-titled album and Silver EP, though on a single full listen it does have pronounced differences as well. For starters, the vocals are way up in the mix. Every word is discernible and rings with the same low-key, near-fey monotone delivery. (And just in case the listener doesn't get it the first time, the phrases are usually repeated mantra-like.) Also the sounds here are huge but seldom blurry. The layering and feedback is deliberate and dynamic. It's in the red, but there are sounds that hint at the levels and never reach them, either. The best example of this is on the ten-plus minute "Weightless & Horizontal" at the album's center. The refrain, "Try never to lose yourself," with its vulnerable anemic tenderness and empathy comes through the heart of the beautifully layered, multi-textured dirge like a lullaby. The piece is introduced by a synth that is nearly organ-like before the crunch plays its meandering, almost anthemic melody line courtesy of power chords, a snare and hi hat, and a rumbling, loose-stringed bassline that follows the chord progression all the way down the line. The track slowly unfolds without unfolding at all. There are dynamic stops with short silences but these are mainly to catch one's breath before the round begins again. Again, though, it's not actually about melody, but a bludgeoning hypnosis and an emotional space carved out by the major chords in the riff that changes everything from black to blue-gray. By the end of the cut, the listener is all but exhausted and that track is followed by the only slightly faster, bone-jarring sonic excess of "Medicine," where the vocal is followed by a twinned guitar lead aping the melody. But the vainglorious riff and wave of noise chock-full of ambient sound, space, and who-knows-what captures one's attention as the lyrics seep in slowly. These songs take a full six to eight minutes to completely enter and wreak havoc with the emotions. "Transfigure," near the beginning of the record, is almost fast by comparison, but all the elements that make bands like Spiritualized attractive -- the reliance on repetition and a helplessness that is moved along into the abyss by raucous sound -- are all here, albeit it's nowhere near psychedelic. Other cuts, like the shards of smashed crystal of "Brighteyes" that erupt from a synth sine wave, ping-ponging, fuzzed-out guitar strings and an organ have to be heard to be believed. This is the sound of desperation played at 16 rpm, with a vocal that is as gentle as the onset of an overdose of nightshade. In all, one can claim to have heard the entirety of this set in the first five minutes. But that's not only an error, it's a lie. There is so much more to Conqueror than initially meets the ear -- particularly at eardrum-melting volume -- because while these are songs, they are also bits of a bleak tapestry of longing, grief, warm tear-staining beauty and surrender, and it's worth the album's dragging weight a thousandfold in syrupy, metallic reverse and inside-out bliss and bombast. If anything, perhaps Broadrick may have come up with a new metallic sub-genre, "bliss metal."