By Bill Adams
For the last nineteen years, Converge has led a modest but respectable career mixing metal and hardcore and has amassed a decent following for their efforts – there’s no denying that – but even the most dogged fan would have to admit that there has always been something just a hair off. That fractional discrepancy has been the grain of sand in albums like Halo In A Haystack, Petitioning The Empty Sky and Jane Doe that kept the possibility of widespread success as present but evasive. Detractors have regularly said that the band was either “too hardcore for metal” or “too metal for hardcore” depending upon which genre the naysayer happened to like better and, because both camps regularly maintained this, Converge was left in niche-less purgatory; when the objects one is lodged between are as uncompromising and dismissive as hardcore and metal are, being stuck in the middle is a very unforgiving place to be.
It took nineteen years but, in the opening guitar slashes of “Dark Horse,” listeners can almost hear the bandmembers collectively growl, “Fuck it all. Fuck community, fuck the naysayers, fuck what everybody might say” and then proceed to smash everyone listening over the head with thirteen of the strongest tracks this band has ever recorded; none of which fall into easy classification because Converge plays them all their own way, by their own rules.
That forethought really does yield the best imaginable imaginable results here too; while the rhythm section manned by Nate Newton and Ben Koller drives the basic groundwork into place, guitarist Kurt Ballou both builds and burns a set of rough and ready lines that could only be called metal because they’re heavy and only be called hardcore because the come so damned fast – they’re a brand apart from both because they’re more elemental than either term allows; the closest approximation would be that what listeners are hearing are hearing on Axe To Fall is more like thirteen shots of raw sonic adrenaline.
At the centre of the maelstrom and absorbing all that adrenaline that his system can handle is singer Jacob Bannon – the conduit for it all as well as the one that takes the brunt of the blast in tunes including “Reap What You Sow,” “Worms Will Feel / Rats Will Feast” and “Dead Beat.” In each case, the singer’s delivery is always very reactionary; the slower the band goes, the closer to melodic he gets but any shift in tempo tends to raise his ire and throw him into maniacal fits. As a result, most lyric sheets here are totally useless; all anyone knows for sure is that Bannon is inextricably attached to the music that causes his swings and both singer and band always pour it on to match each other. It’s actually a pretty incredible act of mutual aural catharsis.
In the end, as “Wretched World” spirals and slams the album closed, the feeling that both listeners and the band can take home is that Axe To Fall is an accomplishment. In this case, the band finally had the set to not try and play by anyone else’s rules and make the best record of its career to date. The verdict remains out on how long the band will be able to hold out on this genre-of-one design, but fans can hope that, if the results are as good as this, the band will get a few licks in before it all comes crashing down.
Originally published by groundcontrolmag.com