After three years of touring on the merits of an incredibly strong demo, EP, and split, Jesus Piece are poised to finally unleash their debut full length album, Only Self, upon the sizable fan base they have built over the past couple years grinding shows with their brand of punishing metallic hardcore. As the discordant, breakdown-friendly hardcore of the late 90s and early 00’s has become canonized within the history of heavy music, more and more bands have taken clear influence from, at the most surface level, the likes of Disembodied and Buried Alive.
Having been one of the earlier adopters in this current wave of heavy hardcore, Jesus Piece spins a mix of heavy grooves, socially minded lyrics, and some of the most interesting drumming in the scene into a sound that is controlled and absolutely bludgeoning. In addition to the hype they’ve garnered over the past several years, their signing to metal-minded heavy music label Southern Lord (Xibalba, Power Trip, Nails) was an interesting twist only made the promise of a new release more exciting.
Working with producer Andy Nelson (also Weekend Nachos’ guitarist), Jesus Piece have created Only Self, a record which can succinctly and best be described as a steel chair to the dome. The production here is slightly cleaner than previous output but in the perfect way—the guitars have the same grinding tone; vocalist Aaron Heard’s gruff vocals still have their claustrophobic edge, and the drum production is perfect. The low end on this album is outstanding, something that could be expected by choice of engineer and label, and contributes to the suffocating atmosphere. Only Self remains murky without being muddy.
The first four tracks are the most straightforward on the record, presenting a block of tracks that’ll leave you feeling on the wrong side of a mosh pit trashcan throw. “Lucid” is a plodding opener that almost immediately delivers with a heavy mosh part and sets the tone for most of the record, while “Punish” pounds away like a brutal clockwork mechanism and features some left field percussion sounds mixed in. “Curse Of The Serpent” is heavy but, dare I say, expected, and arguably one of the weaker tracks on the album as a whole. Still, there’s not a bad song on the record.
What makes this record a bit more interesting than your average hardcore record is the production, and it’s apparent that Jesus Piece has done a lot of experimentation with their sound on this record. What sounds like a synth pad on “Workhorse” is minor but adds some good ambiance, and even some melody, to the track. The chorus-effected clean guitars at the start “In The Silence” aren’t at all unheard of for the sub-genre that reveresIf God Only Knew, but shows a different kind of songwriting for Jesus Piece.
“Dog No Longer,” the album standout, seems to blend Jesus Piece’s apparent interest in toying with production with their penchant for mosh riffs, going from a driving mosh groove into a bouncy drum part, and ending with a sludgy, rolling bass as the drums slowly pull away into a wash of reverb. “I” and “II” are atmospheric interludes that sort of round out the main part of the album and flow into each other nicely, while filling out the dark atmosphere of the record. These songs are undeniably cool and have a place on the album, and make a lot of sense for the band when put in context of “Mantra” off of the promo tape. Rounding out the 11th slot is a re-recording of “Oppressor” off the self-titled EP, which, to be completely honest, lacks the lower-fi charm and immediacy of the original, ultimately feeling like it drags a bit more, though it’s roughly the same tempo.
That brings us to the album’s largest and only flaw. All of these songs are good, and the production is good, but the pacing is kind of weird. Only Self is front-loaded with its most straightforward heavy tracks, and Jesus Piece doesn’t get into the more out-there songs and structures until “In The Silence.”
The other confusing decision is really just the length. The record is 11 songs long, two of which are essentially interludes, and one of which is a re-recording. Jesus Piece can write good riffs, cohesive and interesting songs, and good mosh parts, but with a sound as merciless as theirs, it feels weird to get the “breather” tracks at the end. The inclusion of “Oppressor” as the last song, after the interludes that serve as a come-down, is also pretty confusing. For people who’ve listened to the first version, it adds nothing, and is, at best, parallel with the track’s original recording. Cut the “Oppressor” rerecording and one of the singles, and this is a perfect, lean album.
For these minor gripes, Only Self is coherent, heavy, and sounds good. And what band doesn’t need an editor? Only Self proves that the decision to go with Southern Lord was a good one, and is a prime example of the ways hardcore bands can benefit from experimenting with their sound. As good as Only Self is, it proves that the band is capable of a lot more than we’ve seen, and I’m already anticipating where they go next.