Posted by: Necci – Apr 19, 2011


Jesuit – Discography (Magic Bullet)

In the process of retrospectively analyzing anything, it can be difficult to avoid compartmentalizing history into categories far neater than the amorphous flow of human existence tends to actually be. Alliances between people and similarities in thought processes which may not have been readily apparent as they transpired can often solidify into more easily comprehensible groupings after the fact, a privilege of hindsight. While there's nothing inherently wrong with this sort of reclassification, it can ignore the large swaths of human experience that get left out of such analyses. Examinations of the Arab/Israeli conflict tend to place most of their emphasis on the more militant factions of both sides, ignoring the large population in the middle who would gladly shun sectarian conflict. Most histories of the Cold War have focused on the conflicts between the superpowers, largely ignoring the fact that the non-aligned nations played as crucial a role in world events. And even in less tempestuous realms, there are middle courses that defy dualistic retrospection, and can transcend the circumstances of their origins.

The presentation for Jesuit's discography tends to frame the band's existence in terms of their combative relationship to one of the more extreme ends of the 1990's hardcore scene to which the band belonged--that of the more politically correct DIY scene. While this antipathy is undoubtedly accurate, many of the recollections compiled in the accompanying booklet tend to be fairly innocuous (that anybody would be gravely offended by the “Gilman street mustache incident”--referred to several times in the liner notes--seems fairly ridiculous). It also tends to ignore the fact that their ability to alienate the more uptight side of the punk rock spectrum paled in comparison to the other extreme present in that scene: that of the tough guy youth crew hardcore bands, whose reactionary anti-political correctness blended seamlessly with the machismo of the image and the music. Jesuit fit with the latter group as much as they did the former, which is to say not much at all. But to define the band by the sub-genres they didn't fit into sells short the music they actually did create.

It's hard to pinpoint exactly where Jesuit falls in the spectrum of hardcore--a fairly high compliment for a band working in a genre so cluttered with image-driven imitators. They had some of the abrupt transitions between blazing speed and drawn-out sludge that the early power violence bands utilized, but their songs tended to forsake that genre's brevity, instead allowing each part ample time to unfold. There was some of the discordance found in bands like Rorschach and Deadguy, but Jesuit's approach generally emphasized aggression over technicality, a noisy bludgeoning rather than the intricacy of those bands. But while Jesuit was not without predecessors and had no shortage of imitators, theirs was a style that can't be summed up by a neatly-packaged set of comparisons.

It is a testament to the members' capabilities that they were able to incorporate so wide a variety of timbres and textures simultaneously--many of the songs seem less like a succession of verses and choruses than they do an avalanche of sounds, a torrent of dissonance. Parts that might have leaned towards more conventional hardcore are stretched in several directions at once, and the distended noise workouts put to shame any hardcore bands whose version of negativity and unpleasantness is more of a marketing position than a songwriting concern. There are hints of more recognizable forms from time to time--the harmonized leads on “Tranzor Z,” or the cover of Black Sabbath's “Hole In The Sky,” for instance--but these moments hardly dilute the band's potency, instead offering brief moments of contrast that only emphasize the whirlwind abrasion of the bulk of Jesuit's material.

The remastering job also aids the songs immeasurably--while the originals certainly didn't lack blunt force, the greatly-improved sound quality gives the songs a heft that the initial versions didn't quite possess. The reverse chronological order of the recordings also allows the listener a glimpse of the band's developments: starting with the lumbering mid-tempo dirge of their 1999 EP, a sound not unlike a metallic take on Amphetamine Reptile noise rock bands like Unsane or Halo Of Flies; progressing through the frenetic rage of their 1996 debut, including two tracks that the liner notes claim never appeared on vinyl (though the song “Smooth Talking Son Of A Bitch” actually had appeared on the 1997 Crimethinc compilation LP In Our Time); and concluding with the raw grind of their demo tape, included here as a bonus 7”. The sequencing allows the listener to experience the band at their most developed, a smart choice considering that the lo-fi qualities of the demo (while not bad songs or a terrible recording by any stretch of the imagination) could be a little much for novice listeners to stomach initially.

It's somewhat ironic that a band whose songs have aged as well as Jesuit's has been as largely forgotten as they had been (often remembered more for the better-known bands that members subsequently joined). Theirs was music from an era characterized by factions so thoroughly self-congratulatory that their whole endeavor was just a big pat on the back for adhering to whatever puerile ethical concepts with which they'd been allied. Jesuit's music stands the test of time better than the vast majority of their contemporaries (this was an era when both Struggle and Strife sold a lot of records) by remaining as turbulent today as when it was originally released--not solely in musical terms, but as a band who refused to toe any line but their own.

By Graham Scala