Lead Review: Tristan Bath On JK Flesh’s Rise Above

In stripping away some of the most recognisable elements of the JK Flesh project, Tristan Bath finds Rise Above to be the most direct music Justin Broadrick has made in a decade

In every sense of the word, the sheer volume of Justin Broadrick’s music continues to be staggering. Since reforming his epochal Godflesh in 2010 Broadrick’s been as busy as ever, not only igniting JK Flesh in 2012, but also continuing his much adored Jesu project (including that collaborative album with Sun Kil Moon earlier this year), forming noisy metal trio Valley of Fear with members of Skullflower, completing a solid EP of lush danceable electronics as Pale Sketcher, issuing power electronics as White Static Demon, and completing a trio of albums with The Blood of Heroes, a collaboration with the man who is essentially Broadrick’s eternally busy American counterpart, Bill Laswell. Against the odds, Broadrick’s been in the midst of perhaps the most fruitful period of his thirty-year career – and this could well be its apex.

With that in mind, there’s a pretty palpable feel of final destination about Rise Above. It’s as if Broadrick finally identified the threshold he’d been looking for and long jumped over it as quickly as he could. It’s only the second full LP under the JK Flesh name, but it’s developed – or rather streamlined and distilled – far more quickly than almost any of the man’s’ previous dozen or so projects. The influence of dancehall and breakbeat music over the first JK Flesh album, Posthuman, was often unignorable, albeit still somewhat buried beneath those chugging syrupy guitar chords and blood curdling screams. Although densely electronic, the tinkle of acoustic drums, twist of guitar strings, and semblances of a normal rock band also staunchly remained. Rise Above however, seems to eliminate the last few remnants of vacant echo chamber space from the dub tool kit, eradicate those bumping grinding riddims, and even swap out rock chug for purely synthetic squall and sub bass thud. JK Flesh has dumped the vocals, jettisoned the guitars, and gone full on industrial techno; and the results are potentially the most direct music he’s committed to tape since Godflesh’s Songs of Love and Hate in 1996.

Visceral energy is potentially the one key element that permeates all of Broadrick’s projects. Even the crushing near-ambient shoegazing of Jesu or the dark ambient soundscapes of Final seem the work of an angry firebrand and not the very sensitive chap Broadrick comes as across as in interviews. On Rise Above this is at an all time high, stripping the process down to the key elements of heavily distorted bass lines, repetitive beats, and those omnipresent in-the-red textures. Key UK industrial techno artists like Surgeon or Perc instantly spring to mind, neither of whom tending to shy away from allowing their music to slip into distortion. All eight of the 5-6 minute long tracks on Rise Above sound like a mastering engineer’s nightmare, and it all just adds to the urgency of the thing.

For years Broadrick’s been seeking to explore his own frustration, paranoia, anger, and hate through music, bloodletting into the screams and riffage of Godflesh, or the lamentation and sprawl of Jesu, and in a lot of ways this music he’s stumbled across right here does the job far better. After the opening hiss of ‘Tunnel’ dissolves into a wobbly bass line and thudding kick, the track essentially slots into a locked groove while Broadrick sporadically throws new elements in like gravel into a concrete mixer. The initial groove on ‘Tunnel’ – which is closer to the sound of the bloke next door sledgehammering the adjoining wall than anything else – softens a couple of times in six minutes for forlornly distorted high end pads to enter like rain clouds from above, twisting aggression into depression with one fell swoop.

The rest of the album continues in much the same way, looping noise music to bang heads to while new elements snake their way into nanometers of vacant sonic space, and dab sadness and paranoia onto the encroaching walls. ‘Trinity’ is one of the funkiest offerings, and one of the easiest to imagine actually slaying it on a dancefloor. And yet even ‘Trinity’ heads into a paranoid and terrifying sort of abstract industrial hell in its final third, succumbing to washes of weepy keyboard drones. Similarly, unwieldy flames of synth tones lick the underbelly of closing track ‘Low Alloy’ slipping it into and out of sense-making shapes infuriatingly. By comparison the title track is playful, built around a child-like melody which hovers like the rest of album around a pretty leisurely 100 BPM. Were all the elements softened and brought out of the punishingly loud and distorted heights that turn your speakers into weaponry, the experience would entirely shift; the title track would be a simple party tune. Simple as it may seem, sheer heaviosity is never one dimensional, and as it stands Broadrick’s methodology coaxes his signature brand of paranoia and anger from relatively simple chunks of beats and bass.

Rise Above manages to assimilate every aspect of the Broadrick’s work and spit out something utterly striking. The entire album straddles that rough divide dancefloor and torture chamber – or as Steve Goodman / Kode9 put it in his 2009 book Sonic Warfare, “the precarious virtual threshold between dance and violence”. In the intervening period since Posthuman, Broadrick seems to have abandoned a more directly address story of urban bleakness – the ‘shadows and cut-throats’ that populated Posthuman – and swapped them for more purely animalistic and hellbent motives. So frank and brutal are the whiteknuckled grooves and aggression on Rise Above it’s tougher than ever to imagine where Broadrick will go next. Perhaps the unstoppable force has finally met his immovable object?

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