The throat-shredding, eardrum-bursting aggression of Massachusetts’ Converge becomes an expansive, punishing, fearless assault on their eighth studio album Axe to Fall.
That isn’t to say that the destructive, chaotic extreme hardcore punk of Jane Doe or No Heroeswas short of the mark, of course, but the band’s 2009 record reaches new heights that prove that they’re about so much more than just cranking amps and shattering fucking faces.
The magnificence of Converge’s exploration of fury and anger has always been found in the thread of spitting, panting insanity simmering on the surface. Whether through Jacob Bannon’s taxing, almost silly vocals or Ben Koller’s gruelling drumming, the Salem quartet has always delivered on the promise of face-breaking hardcore music that tests the boundaries and stamina of the listener.
Axe to Fall presents a different side, however. While the metal is just as gruesome and the punk is just as reckless, there’s a fine line of beauty to be found with this record.
Before any of you go running for the exits thinking one of the world’s greatest hardcore punk/extreme metal bands has gone all squashy and experimental, know that there’s really something wonderful about a band sure enough in their heaviness and pandemonium to know that really pushing the fucking boundaries of good sense requires a more even-handed, focused plan of attack.
It also doesn’t hurt to have a little help from your friends and Converge brings out some truly great musicians on Axe to Fall. With Neurosis’ Steve Von Till (!), Genghis Tron’s Mookie Singerman and Hamilton Jordan, Cave In’s Steve Brodsky and Adam McGrath, and ex-Hatebreed guitarist Sean Martin lending their services, the record feels significant and weighty.
At the core of it all, Bannon, Koller, guitarist Kurt Ballou, and bassist Nate Newton keep things clicking at a harsh pace.
The band’s unhinged hostility infuses the record’s first four cuts with rage, with Ballou’s absolutely wild riff swiftly tearing through “Dark Horse” and Bannon’s vocals chewing through the static and fuzz of “Effigy” like flames through a cardboard cut-out of Donny Osmond.
It’s the fifth track that really starts to turn things in a different direction, though. “Worms Will Feed” opens with ill-omened guitar and a slow pace that will push the low end of your stereo system to its limits.
“Damages” continues the sluggish, sludgy, tempo-shifting trend by showcasing a different side of Converge. Ballou’s work here is astounding, but it’s Koller who really steals the show with a pile of clattering, severe fills taken from the gates of Hell itself. The song is a monster, setting the table nicely for the rest of the record.
Neurosis’ Von Till, one of metal’s best modern vocalists, delivers on “Cruel Bloom.” His dog-eared tone is matched by a backing vocal choir, a sure peculiarity on a Converge record, and it all somehow fucking works like a charm. It’s poignant, petrifying and beautiful all at once.
Axe to Fall, produced by Ballou, is truly something special. Converge has elected growth over rote, choosing to create an album of challenging depth and horrifying beauty that still respects and builds on the balls-to-the-wall ferocity of the band’s previous work.