By Laina Dawes
Compiling Top Ten album lists at the end of the year really suck. I start making a mental list around July, but because there are always stellar albums are released near the deadline date (usually November), at the last minute I struggle with having to bump amazing Winter/Spring releases for albums that, despite only having held that little baby in my hands for a month, need to be moved to the top.
Converge’s Axe to Fall is one of those albums. The Boston-based quartet seems to be following a trend among veterans like Sacrifice, Suffocation, Asphyx and Brutal Truth who have released albums this year: offering music that despite the band’s longevity, are if not one, the best albums they have ever created, all while staying true to their original sound. There is no need to apply more ‘trendy’ subgenres to keep up with the young’uns – their choice not to reinvent the wheel has paid off in spades.
Kicking off Axe to Fall is the fierce “Dark Horse” which is a stellar example of what they offer and why they rule: they know when to accentuate their talents and know when to pare it down, alternating from the dexterous guitar feats of Kurt Ballou and bassist Nate Newton and the thunderous galloping of drummer Ben Koller (whose double-kick blast about thirty seconds in is alone worth buying the album in its entirety), to incredibly heavy, stoner-ish riffs, probably one of the best bands to successfully merge and accentuate the best aspects of metal and hardcore.
They continue the frenetic pace with “Axe to Fall; Cutter” and “Slave Driver,” applying some bluesy groove and slowing it down (slightly) on “Worms Will Feed / Rats Will Feast.” Ex-Hatebreeder Sean Martin plays guitar and provides vocals on “Reap What You Sow” and while the last two tracks have brought a bit of consternation from critics, “Cruel Bloom” with vocalist Steve Von Till (Neurosis) who channels his inner Tom Waits, is definite standout, especially in how the track morphs from a haunting, Americana-influenced ballad into a brutally heavy finale.
“Wretched World” seems to be a radical departure from the rest of Axe to Fall, but it displays the band’s creativity and willingness to take risks. With the help of some of the band’s friends/ fellow musicians, including Genghis Tron’s Mookie Singerman and Hamilton Jordan, the addition of keyboards, synchs, vocals, guitars and drums create a bombastic opus that narrowly misses being dismissed as a soundtrack from 80’s blockbuster movie.
The only criticism of Axe to Fall is that the vocals of Jacob Brannon could have been mixed higher, as on some tracks the incredible lyrics are a bit muddled, but despite that one of the best aspects about this album is the production. Thanks to Ballou, who has also produced records for Misery Index, Disfear, Torche and Trap Them, the sound is incredibly crisp and sharp. I guarantee you will be seeing Axe to Fall on a number of Top Ten lists this year.