Being in a hardcore or punk band is like living in the world of Logan’s Run, a movie where everyone hangs out in an idyllic futuristic utopia until they’re 30, and then they get pushed into a giant furnace. In punk/hardcore you wild out for a lil while, make a couple of hot albums and then flame out magically. It’s phone sex on a pre-paid cellphone that you throw out the window after you’re done. By all logic Converge should be dead or embarrassingly shitty, but for some reason they’re still making noise that matters.
With Converge being 22 years into the game—150 in hardcore years—they’re relatively ancient. That’s two decades of screaming, blast beats, and controlled chaos put to tape. Converge the band is older than most of the people that will download this album. Comparatively, at this point in their careers Black Flag had been broken up for 12 years, Agnostic Front was broken up for 10 years, Black Sabbath was doing reunion tours for nostalgia’s sake, and Metallica was putting out a movie highlighting their fucking therapy sessions. Converge on the other hand, have just dropped All We Love We Leave Behind, which might be the first record to show that an excess of experience can actually be beneficial in aggressive music—it’s one of a scant few albums that argues against euthanizing hardcore bands after four full length albums.
Although Converge records are wildly emotional and prone to sonic hysterics, they’re surgically precise and surprisingly formulaic. Since the release of 2001′s Jane Doe, they’ve been working like mad scientists to perfect their musical formula by altering the balance of pure aggression, melody, and somber reflection. 2004′s You Fail Me was a dark and doom laden variant on the formula, No Heroes was a higher energy punk inspired take on it, and Axe to Fall was a collaborative experiment with a lot of metal technicality. AWLWLB plays out like a condensed version of the last eleven years of their musical output. If you’ve somehow missed out on hearing these dudes this is a pretty good Cliffs Notes version of what they do.
There’s a good amount of songs that harken back to the D-beat styled, balls to the walls hardcore foundation modern Converge is built around. Songs like “Tender Abuse”, “Sparrow’s Fall” and “Shame In the Way” could’ve easily been pulled off of Jane Doe or the faster parts of No Heroes. These are the short, “get in and get out” blast that Converge do better than anyone (except maybe Trap Them). There’s also a couple of songs that outwardly show Converge’s unabashed love of metal like “Trespasses” with it’s wall of double bass and very in your face guitar leads. “Sadness Comes Home” has a main riff comprised of tapping, a bunch of whaling bent notes and section of Slayeresque atonal guitar solos. The songs that go all out metal are so on the nose, you almost wonder if Converge aren’t maybe having a lil fun with the listener. You can imagine one of the guitarists from Mastodon saying “dude, I bet you can’t build a song around tapping and wanking guitar solos like we often do…” while Converge’s Kurt Ballou strokes his chin and says “…challenge excepted”. Back in the early 1900s when dudes were way into adventuring, gentleman’s challenges like that led to the “discovery” of “lost” civilizations, which was cool and all. So maybe we consider the solo on “Sadness Comes Home” hardcore’s version of Around The World In Eighty Days.
What doesn’t work so well on this album are the somber, slower paced songs that Converge have been steadily refining over their last five albums. Doomy, repetitive songs like “Jane Doe” eventually morphed into heartfelt and bare, perfectly moody pieces like “Wretched World” (from Axe To Fall), “In Her Shadow” (from You Fail Me) and “Grim Heart/Black Rose” (from No Heroes). “Jane Doe” is a a beautifully torturous song, showing a younger Converge experimenting with dirge-paced detours on their albums, but “Wretched World” and “Grim Heart” were full realized shifts in mood and execution for the band. On AWLWLB, we get “Coral Blue” which attempts to merge the ,metal doom and gloom of “Jane Doe” into the bare somberness of “Wretched World”. It’s not a horrible track, but the mix of the two genres isn’t quite right, you never get as densely, apoplectically and oppressively sad as “Jane Doe” nor the sparse, loneliness of “In Her Shadow”. It’s some where weirdly neither here nor there.
Looking at the post Jane Doe career of Converge, it’s easy to separate their catalog into two distinct movements. Jane Doe and You Fail Me work as a cohesive unit, a bookend set of albums reflecting on heartbreak with equal parts anger and sadness. Jane Doe is overly loud and hot, blisteringly fast, and Jake Bannon often sounds screechingly, banshee mad. YFM is also angry but it’s heavier and a bit more controlled with Bannon often sounding like a rabid zombie screaming what random syllables it can recall through the haze of post-mortem dementia. The albums made since then have been increasingly formalist in nature. They’re still all really fucking angry, and fast but they sound more like the work of dudes that are approaching hardcore from an academic standpoint. Scientists tinkering with the speed of blast beats and the appropriate amount of bent notes they can appropriately put into a riff. For most hardcore bands that kind of distance would be a death knell, but with Converge being so far into hardcore (and already mastering the art of emotionally exploding on tape) it makes sense that they would become more technical about their craft. It’ll be interesting to see where the next movement in their discography takes their variations on a theme of anger.- raythedestroyer