Last Night: Jesu at Walter’s

Jesu, Wolves in the Throne Room, AWAKE October 11, 2007 Walter's on Washington

Better Than: Metal Church; also, regular church

Download: "Old Year," from Jesu’s 2007 album Conqueror

Justin Broadrick of Jesu (usually pronounced YAY-zu) is quite possibly the most important man in underground metal. Ever. After helping to get grindcore pioneers Napalm Death off the ground at the age of 17, Broadrick founded Godflesh, a punishingly brutal and starkly innovative industrial metal band that inspired countless noise-loving misfits and developed a rabid cult following. With Jesu, Broadrick has opened up a new sonic palette that combines the weight and strength of metal with the scope and density of shoegaze. Houston Broadrick fans were cruelly denied a Jesu show back in March due to the Brits’ visa problems, and they - well, I anyway – have hotly anticipated their return since.

But first, the opening bands.

Local quartet AWAKE, the brainchild of visual artist Doug Spearman, opened the show with a Godflesh-influenced set of very loud but unhurried rock. The members of AWAKE are good friends of mine, so critical ethics preclude me from mentioning how great they were. I'll leave it at that, except to say that guitarist David Robinson (also a member of SARS, Program and the San Antonio Spurs) looked as if he was accustomed to playing much faster types of music and wasn't exactly sure what to do with his body.

Jesu tourmates Wolves in the Throne Room are in the unfortunate position of having a name that makes reference to animals of the genus Canis at a time when such names are so prevalent that calling attention to their prevalence has itself become a cliche.

Photos by John Van

No matter; the treehugging Olympia natives soldier on bravely with a violent mix of black metal and grindcore. They were a crowd pleaser; to my surprise, I even saw a few devil horns thrown up, a practice I assumed had been abandoned by the metal community after the sign’s introduction to frat houses and the Top 40.

It turns out there actually is a good deal of scholarship on the issue, assuming one is defining "scholarship" rather loosely.

Wolves in the Throne Room would be closer to straight-up black metal if not for drummer Aaron Weaver, who plays quite fast, but loose, without the precision characteristic of the best metal drummers. Rather, he plays more like a punk drummer adapted to metal, and as one myself I must say I found it charming.

I was eagerly looking forward to Jesu's performance, largely because I wanted to see how the band could recreate the layered textures of their recent albums with only three instruments. This was a red herring, because Broadrick used a laptop to add to the band's sound, in almost exactly the same fashion as the records. The story of Jesu is not the form of the music, but the songs themselves. Jesu's latest album, Conqueror, sets Broadrick's downtempo thrash riffs and his even, contemplative singing into simple and beautifully patient arrangements that throb with vitality. They are some of the best songs released this year by anyone, and seeing Broadrick perform them, it's clear that he believes in them.

He flails and lunges at his guitar like a wild animal; he bends, twists and thrashes as if the music is tearing the life right out of him.

When Broadrick sings, his voice is clear as a bell, and when it cracks, as on the sublimely cyclical "Old Year," it's wrenching.

The band is crushingly heavy, but smooth as well, without the brutality for which metal usually strives. So far from the anguish of grindcore, or the cruel harshness of Godflesh, Jesu is romantic, almost spiritual. It seems unthinkable to treat this like any other metal show; how can you throw devil horns at a band literally named after the son of God?

Jesu closed with "Friends Are Evil," from their first, self-titled album, illustrating the path that Broadrick took from the alienation of Godflesh to the transcendentalist metal that he now practices. The song starts with stabbing power chords, but gradually transitions into a flowing harmonic study. The show ends with Broadrick feeding back for a minute while the small crowd cheers. He leaves it all on stage, with no question of an encore.

Personal Bias: Like many punk rockers, I pretend to know more about metal than I actually do. I figure it makes my metal friends think I'm cool.

Random Detail: Jesu bassist Diarmuid Dalton took the stage wearing a polo shirt. Could these guys be any more British?

By the Way: According to Wolves in the Throne Room's Myspace page, Jesu and WITTR are playing in Atlanta on Tuesday with. . . Chrome. Whoa, hold the phone -- Chrome?! Daniel Mee

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