Album Review: Jesu – Terminus

[Avalanche; 2020]

Terminus is the first Jesu LP in seven years, though in that time Justin Broadrick has been busy with resurrecting Godflesh, as well as releasing ground-juddering techno noise stompers under his JK Flesh moniker. This latest release as Jesu is far more introspective, melancholic and in places pop (!!) than anything Broadrick has worked on before. The album’s title perfectly encapsulates the feeling of an uninspiring destination point – an acceptance of the end, often in an almost entirely unsatisfactory and messy manner. Terminus plays as an acknowledgement of the lack of closure, the unknowingness of it all, and the absence of grand scale narratives that tie things up in neat little pockets of time. Life is nothing but a fleeting array of random encounters, and Broadrick has produced a painfully honest album where the accumulated bruises and scars of life are there for all to see.

The album begins with “When I Was Small”, which kicks off with a neatly shuffling drum beat before the all too familiar Jesu style guitar comes in, yet not as cloaked in reverb and distortion as we’re used to. Similarly, Broadrick’s voice is drawn out and fractured as usual yet is higher in the mix, highlighting the album’s tendency to not only foreground its weaknesses, but to revel in them. Whereas the layers of sound enveloping the voice on previous releases almost offered a shamanic and overtly spiritual nature to the vocals, here his voice is left uncloaked, more front and centre, more raw, more ‘real’. It’s in this sense of authentic human emotional upheaval that Terminus lays its roots.

“When I Was Small” is almost sludge metal recorded really badly, but such a master of his own sound is Broadrick that you know nothing is done without reason. He’s peeling away at the layers of sound previously used to showcase what has always been beneath – an intense and visceral being.

This is followed by the alarmingly chirpy and psych-pop track “Alone”, which has a meandering vocoder over the beginning that almost makes you feel it would work well with a montage of sporting clips. I bet nobody’s ever written that about a Jesu track before – what strange times we live in. It’s the most immediate track on the album, which conversely makes it the least interesting.

After the detour of “Alone”, Terminus regains its blissfully languid aura for the listener to dwell in. The title track is classic Jesu – a slow burner of immense torpor and haunting vocals, while “Sleeping In” brings to mind Pentastar-era Earth with its sublime droning opening and crushingly slow guitars that cascade over the listener in seemingly ever-slowing circles.

The funereally-paced “Disintegrating Wings” brings to mind the atmosphere of Jesu’s 2007 album Conqueror, but without the monolithic wall of distorted and washed-out guitars. Meanwhile, “Don’t Wake Me Up” is wonderfully raw, Broadrick’s voice cracking and flailing as it searches for anything resembling a note to elucidate his feeling of total abject indifference about his performance of self. “I don’t know who I may be today” he opines, before questioning his ability to stay “…away from you / From me,” and it’s in the latter line that the listener gets a sense that the broken relationship at the centre of the song is more about his own concept of self rather than of someone else. This plays out over post-rock instrumentation that feels like Slint jamming with Slowdive, which can’t be a bad thing.  

Jesu have always revelled in the bleakness of life. From bleached-out album cover photography, to instrumentation drenched in alienating distortion and vocals low in the mix, Broadrick has produced a body of work that celebrates the heartache at the centre of existence, the overarching questions and the connection between beauty and ennui.

Overall, it’s clear that Terminus works as an almost begrudging acceptance of the decay and inevitable end to all things. It is morose and reflective, with a pained beauty at its core that is hard to shrug off. As the days grow ever darker, this is the perfect soundtrack for long walks in the woods for the heartbroken. There is much here to find solace in Terminus, and Broadrick’s intense gloom is life-affirming in that it allows a kinship of human emotional depth between artist and audience. It’s an arm of solidarity around the shoulder of the despairing that tells you to remember that no feeling is final.