Pop & Heavy Metal: The Case of Jesu

I heard Jesu for the first time about two weeks ago, the self-titled record. I had no context for them at all; I didn’t know they were ex-Godflesh, had never heard Godflesh anyway — basically, I had no metal reference points whatsoever, just the music.

And it sounded mostly like mid-nineties British shoegaze to me. I would have readily filed it sonically somewhere between Blur’s Leisure and My Bloody Valentine’s Glider, with a bit of spacerock (Spacemen 3?) thrown in for good measure.

I’ve since done some homework, which has been instructive, and now I’m midway through listening to Jesu’s newest record, Conqueror. Despite all this, my mapping of Jesu sonically hasn’t changed much, if my view of them culturally is very different now. (I had a similar trajectory with Harvey Milk — coming at it from a sort of avantgarde perspective, and then gradually conceding the more overtly metal aspects as my interest in them grew.)

I’m not very schooled in metal, but have found moments in it that I really enjoy. Culturally, however, it might as well be in another galaxy for me, being for the most part male-dominated, often nurturing aggression, fascinated with violence, etc.

But the whole thing has brought up a perennial question for me with regard to the relationship of heavy music to pop, and with regard to musical subgenrification (perhaps this cultural engine has a better name I don’t know?) in general. That is, the many genres of popular music seem to be ghettos rather than friendly neighboring boroughs. Clearly boundaries are constantly shifting; yet there’s also a persistent rigidity.

As someone who loves the physical experience of heavy and loud music, but who also viscerally appreciates a good hook and a sad melody, I find myself longing for a music that seems to not exist. Or, I’m having to satisfy myself with bits and pieces of songs from here and there — like trying to fill myself up on pomegranate fruit.

Pop & Heavy Metal: The Case of Jesu

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