Jaaw – Supercluster

This year is one for Andy Cairns to remember. The Northern Irish rock legend saw Therapy? return to the Top 40 of the UK charts for the first time since 1998 with their latest album. Now he releases his second LP of 2023 with his industrial metal supergroup, Jaaw. Joining him for the band’s debut are Jason Stoll (ex-Mugstar bassist) and Iggor Cavalera collaborationist, Wayne Adams (Petbrick). Drummer, Adam Betts, used to be the live sticksman for Goldie and Squarepusher. You’d expect a line-up like this to resemble a noise rock unit warped by vigorous distortion settings and loud beats, and that’s exactly what they are on the surface. Supercluster is high on adrenaline but just as dark as Godflesh.

Therapy’s early period between 1991’s Babyteeth and 1992’s Nurse is the closest the UK came to spearheading a noise rock scene to match the intensity of Big Black, Sonic Youth and Helmet. Like their fellow major label prodigies in Fudge Tunnel, the Celtic trio used big amps, ugly noise, and catchy hooks to write some of the finest anti-pop music of the pop era. Jaaw are a meaner and heavier version of Therapy? on the evidence of Supercluster. Cairns leaves his imprint all over opener, ‘Thoughts and Prayers (Mean Nothing)’, yet the encouragement from Wayne Adams to use the famous HM-2 pedal of Entombed helps to produce a thicker wall of sound. High-velocity motor engine loops give way to hi-fi drums and punk rock guitar nihilism. Vocals hiss and curse behind a studio distortion effect. Adam Betts’ time in Squarepusher taught him a thing or two about unexpected swerves in the middle eight. The result is like an industrial metal interpretation of Primal Scream’s classic Exterminator album from 2000.

Liberation from conventional verse-chorus structures often leads to unfocussed songwriting and an overreliance on spontaneity. Jaaw have no such problem in an industrial setting, where the beats seldom change, and the compositions prefer to stay in the same key. ‘Reality Crash’ and ‘Rot’ are dark and meditative numbers, shrouded in the self-destruction of Ministry’s underrated Dark Side of the Spoon album at the dawn of this century. The former is like a filthy perversion of basic rock & roll with crushing drums and monstrous bass overdrive; the latter would have been the perfect closer for Therapy’s latest record with its reckless overflow of noise and solemn snare beats.

Sometimes, the vocals are too angry yet not aggressive enough. It’s a conundrum that post-metal and hardcore solved in the early 90s with the rise of loud projection screaming. Cairns and Adams prefer to step back from the microphone when higher decibels would be more suited to the hostility of the music. ‘Hellbent on Happiness’ struggles to emerge beyond the standard mid-90s industrial punk for this reason. ‘Total Protonic Reversal’ is much better as an experiment in progressive dynamics and swirling keyboard atmospherics. It has an emotional depth like the early Swans albums, yet it thrives on a hooligan spike in the faster parts. The vocals on ‘Bring Home the Motherlode, Barry’ sound like SOS pleas from a parallel world, but you’ll wonder why it needs to be over eight minutes in length. It’ll make for a better experience in a live setting, with less lighting and more sweat, rather than on record.

Perhaps the least developed aspect of this music is the negligence of Cairns’ deep vocal harmonies that often sound like a sagacious vagrant with no teeth but plenty of personality. They add another layer of sinister introspection on ‘The Dead Drop’. We need more of these unusual lamentations to counter the hollow aggression of the aggro-punk vocal lines that start to tire after three songs.

Like all supergroups, Jaaw use their licence to experiment and eschew commercial expectations in favour of the jam session. They recorded Supercluster at Bear Bites Horse studio in London over a matter of days with Adams at the helm and Andy Plotkin on call to master it. Their decision to sneak in an imaginative cover of Björk’s ‘Army of Me’ is a clever way to end the album, although you’ll prefer the original.

Jaaw merit closer attention after this record. Let’s hope it’s not the last.



Release Date: 26/05/2023

Record Label: Svart Records

Standout tracks: Reality Crash, Rot, Total Protonic Reversal

Suggested Further Listening: Big Black – Songs About Fucking (1987), Therapy? – Babyteeth (1991), Ministry – Dark Side of the Spoon (1999)