Post-punk and metal are natural stylistic companions, though they’re combined infrequently enough that when someone does it right, it nonetheless arrives as something of a surprise. Post-punk legends Killing Joke have flirted with the crushing brutality of metal for decades now, over time having increasingly bolstered their dark melodicism with crushing rhythms and ferocity. And from the other end of the spectrum, Tombs lined this year’s amazing Path of Totality with as many moments of Joy Division-style goth-rock textures as they did vicious riffs and menacing rumble. Boston’s Junius, meanwhile, has long been compared to bands like Interpol and The Cure, their atmospheric gloom and dark imagery making for an intellectually novel update on goth rock. But as their recent signing to Prosthetic would indicate, there’s a little more thunder behind their rainclouds on new album Reports from the Threshold of Death.
A loose concept album that deals primarily with the idea of near-death experience and crossing over into the realm beyond this life, Reports from the Threshold of Death is a bit simpler, but no less melodramatic than the Immanuel Velikovsky-inspired The Martyrdom of a Catastrophist. Guitarist and singer Joseph Martinez keeps an oddly optimistic and positive undertone in his doom-laden lyrics, offering up lines such as “We have to face our fear, then we will be reborn” and “I know I’ll see you again.” There’s an oddly reassuring sensibility about the ideas Martinez puts across, and it doesn’t hurt that the music behind his lyrics is simultaneously powerful and graceful. One combination of influences being thrown around is Neurosis-meets-The Smiths, which isn’t too far off the mark. But rather than embrace the apocalyptic bleakness of the former or the almost cartoonish drama of the latter, there’s an emotional grounding to these songs that keep them from ever becoming too over-the-top.
There’s a hint of ethereality to opening track “Betray the Grave” before it erupts into a detonation of heroic power chords and Cure-like melody. The spacey “A Universe Without Stars” echoes Cave In circa Jupiter, which elegantly flutters with effects-laden melody before boldly exploding in a mighty chorus of low end. When the band reduces their impact, however, the results aren’t quite as impressive. “Haunts for Love,” one of the album’s softer tracks, gets a little too mired in sad-sack mope. Thankfully, this minor misstep is rectified by the Jesu-like metalgaze assault of “The Meeting of Pasts,” yet another hands-to-the-heaven anthem on an album chock full of ascendant, rocketing lighter-lifters.
Junius, despite the extra boost of metal power, is still very much a post-punk, or simpler yet, rock band, but that crossover punch is what makes Reports from the Threshold of Death stand out among like-minded outfits. Their balance of ethereality and concrete-crushing heaviness is, hypothetically, a highwire act that not too many bands would seem capable of pulling off. Junius not only succeed, they actually make it sound perfectly natural.
Cave In – Jupiter
The Cure – Wish
Jesu – Conqueror