There’s been quite a buzz building around Jesus Piece in recent year, with their brand of metallic hardcore standing up to the best of contemporaries such as Harm’s Way, Vein, and fellow Southern Lord Records band Xibalba. Jesus Piece’s live performances have also contributed to this, with footage from a live show last year going semi-viral, bringing the band no small amount of attention and goodwill (see below). But now, with Only Self, arguably the real test is here. The band can cut it on short records, and are devastating live; but across a full album? This is the moment where Jesus Piece can demonstrate if you can believe the hype or not; the good news is that, yes, you absolutely can. The band even throw some unexpected elements into the mix.
It should first be pointed out that, for much of the album, Only Self doesn’t fundamentally re-write the metallic hardcore rulebook. The groove-laden riffs are reminiscent of the greats of those bands active around the turn of the millennium, such as Disembodied – plenty of palm-muting, plenty of Slayer DNA, and plenty of energy. The vocals are harsh and commanding, and the drumming, though impressive, is never especially flashy – it does what it needs to do to keep the songs moving, whilst throwing in a few fills and accents. But what Jesus Piece do is that most fundamental of things to success – they write solid songs, and play them with the kind of passion and sincerity that cannot be faked. When the grinding opening to “Punish” opens up into explosive riffs and crashing drums, or when “Neuroprison” lurches into its crushing heavy breakdown just after the 1-minute mark, there’s no denying how effective Only Self is, or the passion of Jesus Piece.
Check out a rad, live video from July 29, 2017.
Yet, there’s more to the album than just hardcore basics done well. Note how I said “for much of the album” above? Fifth track “In the Silence” is a slow-burning song, featuring sparse, ominous movements in between more typical hardcore catharsis. And during its closing tracks, Only Self moves away from hardcore completely. “Dog No Longer” might seem like it’s going to close with its slow-tempo breakdown, but then the song’s final moments see it drift into drone, something that is then continued with the ritualistic “I”. Driven by sparse drums, ethereal vocals, and haunting atmospheres, the song has more in common with Neurosis or dark ambient than hardcore; a few of those elements are present earlier on in the album, such as during the ending moments of “Punish”, but here they form the body of the song, not just embellishments. “I” is merely a prelude to the nightmare of “II” though, which sees the band fully embrace bleak soundscapes and the kind of tension building normally found in post-metal and the bleakest of experimental genres. There is a slightly jarring sense of contrast when it flows into cathartic, defiant closer “Oppressor”, but not enough to spoil the flow of the album. This should be seen as evidence of just how strong Jesus Piece’s more experimental side is, and how good their brand of hardcore is.
It’s easy to imagine that “I” and “II” will divide opinion, especially given their placement in Only Self’s running order; it could be argued that they upset the flow of the album just as Only Self is coming to its close. But that the songs exist at all is encouraging. Jesus Piece could have taken the relatively easy road, and swapped the songs out for two more tracks of punishing metallic hardcore, with no one complaining. Indeed, such a move could have seen them tap into the same market as Code Orange and Vein, and possibly even come close to crossing over into the (relative) mainstream as those bands have. Yet the fact that Jesus Piece are willing to take such risks, and to challenge themselves creatively, shows that they are not writing music to be popular, or with any consideration of reaching a certain audience. Despite this lack of concern for the outside world though, Only Self is sure to be one of the year’s biggest hardcore albums; it more than lives up to expectations, and throws a few (largely successful) curve-balls in. What more can be asked for?
This Jesus Piece song is heavy enough to make anyone “Lucid”.
Only Self Track Listing:
04. Curse of the Serpent
05. In the Silence
08. Dog No Longer
Run Time: 31:42
Release Date: August 24, 2018
Record Label: Southern Lord Recordings