As they approach twenty years as a band, taking a look back at what Converge has accomplished throughout their career span would be a fairly daunting task. In an effort to spare both you and I a lot of time, lets just leave it at this: Converge is one of the most important hardcore bands of their time, and should be considered amongst those that have helped define the genre as a whole.
The band returns with full-length effort number seven, Axe to Fall, and they immediately engulf the listener with what they do best. Dark Horse is an abrasive hardcore song that is anchored by guitarist Kurt Ballous trademark guitars mixing it up with the explosive rhythm section of drummer Ben Koller and bassist Nate Newton. And of course vocalist Jacob Bannons trademark bark is omnipresent. The chugging breakdown and chorus make for the perfect introduction to what is yet another fantastic album from Converge. Reap What You Sow and Axe to Fall are equally as destructive and very much in the same vein as the opener. The former features onetime Hatebreed guitarist Sean Martin (one of many guest spots) adding some guitar flair with a solo, something not the norm of the Converge cannon, but it is executed to the t and flows perfectly within the confines of the song.
Effigy is a collaborative effort with Cave In, part of the anticipated Verge-In project in which all members of both bands fused into one leviathan-like math-core force. The song is essentially what you might imagine from the mashing of the two genre-defining groups: equal parts chaotic, gnarling metalcore and streamlined, rock-influenced punk. If you can imagine Slayer, Zeppelin, and Black Flag fused as one being played at warp speed, itd likely sound just like this. Needless to say, this track has given me hope that the remaining Verge-In tracks will surface one day.
Converge continue their two-title trend with Worms Will Feed / Rats Will Feast. The six-minute piece starts off with the brooding guitars of Ballou, once again recalling the gnarling riffs of The Jesus Lizard and Shellac. The pace is eased back considerably (with the steady but hard hitting drums and rumbling basslines) from the opening tracks bringing to mind previous recordings like Lowest Common Denominator and You Fail Me. In addition to Bannons venomous bark, Ballou also offers up his gravely, deep-throated bellows. Its a great juxtaposition in styles as they trade off vocal duties over the slow-churning and thundering piece. The final two minutes see the pace gradually accelerate, but never eclipsing a moderate tempo. This flows perfectly into Wishing Well, which sees Converge moving back to familiar territory. With help of the Uffe Cederlund of Entombed on guitars, the listener is given a history lesson of where the band draws a great deal of influence.
The band chugs through Axe to Fall, furthering their assault on the staleness of the rest of the hardcore scene, making it look way too easy. Damages is a pummeling four and a half minutes, which features some unique guitar noodling by Ballou in the vein of many laid-to-rest 90s peers (Snapcase, One King Down, Quicksand, etc.). Losing Battle and Dead Beat are two-minute blasts which showcase the talents of Koller; whether it is destructive double-bass, aggressive use of the entire kit, blast beats, or fills, he demonstrates just why hes one of the best drummers around. And if you want a true lesson in modern metalcore, Cutter absolutely smashes from start to finish; its like a runaway locomotive barreling down on you. Get out of the way or prepare to get obliterated. If there were one song that I would consider a weak spot it would be Slave Driver, but I think that has more to do with how stellar the preceding song is and how excited I get for the two songs that conclude the album.
Which brings us to the final two tracks of Axe to Fall, easily the most widely discussed songs of the album. Cruel Bloom is a soulful four-minute venture that features Neurosis Steve Von Till handling the vocals in place of Bannon. His whiskey-soaked croons may not be expected on a Converge record, but his Waits-esque delivery matches the slow tempo and scaled back musical approach the band takes to the song. This is Converge yet again reaching beyond their comfort zone to demonstrate they are more than just a noisy hardcore band. Closer Wretched World once again sees Converge collaborating; this time Mookie Singerman of Genghis Tron handles vocals while his band mate Hamilton Jordan helps with guitar and The Red Chord's Brad Fickeisen and Cave In's J.R. Connors offer additional percussion. The seven minutes are perhaps the most unique construction the band has yielded to date; finding words to describe it is a bit difficult. To be honest, youre actually better off listening and forming your own opinion.
The production of Axe to Fall is impeccable. Whether it is the absolutely destructiveness of the rhythm section, the attentiveness to the nuances of the guitars, or the overall mix of all the musical and vocal components, Ballou has scrutinized every detail and I cant find a single complaint. Completing the package is the artistic vision of Bannon, which compliments the emotional output of the music and lyrics perfectly, with each song accompanied by its own individual artwork.
Axe to Fall is easily the most complete Converge album since 2001s Jane Doe. Portions of its predecessor No Heroes were a bit repetitive, but Axe to Fall is a lot more dynamic. Converge showcases a lot of different tempos and styles throughout the album, though it never detracts from the flow. Converge have found a way to continue their development but also showcase their origins and influences on Axe to Fall, which is a testament to just how great a band they are. Id be hard-pressed to find a more cohesive unit in hardcore, punk, or metal than Converge, and Axe to Fall is all the evidence I need to prove that point.
9.5 / 10
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