Worshipped in hardcore circles like Mohammed fronting the Smiths, Converge have been the standard bearers for progressive punk-metal for the past decade, delivering an impeccable line in controlled aggression with tremendous skill and integrity since their genre-defining and defying fourth record, Jane Doe, smashed the door in back in 2001.
It’s hard to think of another band from any part of the spectrum whose output has remained as consistently impressive and critically adored as theirs, especially amazing given that the Massachusetts quartet operate in a genre whose worst excesses can be among the most boneheaded and reactionary on the musical map. In their hands hardcore is multi-layered and dynamic, borrowing from post-rock and doom, grindcore and thrash, and even hinting at acid rock and jazz, constantly changing gear and tone while somehow maintaining a purist punk spirit.
To say expectations run high for a new Converge release is an understatment akin to saying the resurrection of Christ was a 'nifty trick' - not for nothing is their offical site called Convergecult.com, and their acolytes will settle for nothing less than messianic rebirth. Happily, while not quite the game-changing second coming some would hope for, All We Love We Leave Behind more than passes muster. It stands toe-to-toe with the best of the band's canon, and that means the best of modern metal.
The eighth Converge album sets its stall from the word go and opener ‘Aimless Arrow’ immediately wrong-foots anyone who thinks they know what they’re getting. Jacob Bannon’s vocals are clearer and more melodic than we’re used to, but the track has no intention of playing to the mainstream: instead it’s pushed by jazzy, scattershot drums careening like a misfiring machine-gun while Kurt Ballou’s guitar jangles and scratches against the melody. It’s progressive, focussed, unsettling and ace, a perfectly pitched introduction to a record that never lets you settle, that writhes and twists under your gaze every time you think you have it pinned down.
Just when you’re sure you’re getting a full post-rock reinvention Converge launch ‘Trespasses’ and beat the living shit out of you with a pummeling assault as vicious as anything they’ve done before. It’s exhausting just listening to it. The band weave a fierce, complex tapestry here; ‘Glacial Pace’ is all nauseous drone and atmosphere, ‘Coral Blue’ is built on a mountainous bluesy riff that occasionally sounds -genuinely- like Mastodon covering ‘Enter Sandman’, and ‘Sadness Comes Home’ starts with an immaculate stoner groove before trying to squeeze every genre of metal from the 70’s to the present day into a bonzo three minutes. On paper it sounds mental but nothing here comes off as contrived or ridiculous: Converge are incapable of sounding anything but utterly sincere.
In its final third the record takes a turn for the introspective. A short instrumental, ‘Precipice,’ nodding to the more layered, dreamier soundscapes we’ve heard on previous work, leads into the moodier title track and it’s spiraling guitar figure that teeters just the right side of epic bluster, before the sludge and slab of ‘Predatory Glow’ brings everything back home. It’s fine stuff and closes a tight, engaging and aggressive album that hits all the hardcore marks while never giving in to its’ cliches.
In many ways it’s a far purer version of Converge than 2009’s Axe To Fall, though newer converts may miss the darker melodies that closed that record- there is no such mellow respite here. All We Love We Leave Behind retains the fire of Jane Doe and harnesses everything they’ve learned since, combining to create something unrelenting, brutal, and never short of magnificent. A cult worth joining.
8Marc Burrows's Score