Of the four albums Converge have released in the past decade, a strong case could be easily made for each one of them as their best. Their 2001 album Jane Doe is hailed as their masterpiece, an album that stands as their broadest and most intense, balancing extreme blasts of high-speed metalcore with sludgy, Unsane-style rumble and moments of breathtaking ethereality. Yet 2004’s brooding and thunderous You Fail Me and 2006’s visceral burn of No Heroes each found the Salem, Mass. band refining, sharpening and beefing up their sound to become one of the most consistently ferocious forces in metal. To continue this sort of marathon of epic, scalp-scorching hardcore and metal dustups would seemingly require a kind of superhuman endurance. And yet here we are in 2009, with Converge delivering yet another mind-melting album in Axe To Fall.
Continuing a now eight-year-long streak of unrelenting quality and brutality, Axe To Fall is a thrilling new chapter for the band, one that finds Converge keeping some high profile company. Several of the album’s 13 songs feature guest performances from the likes of Neurosis’ Steve Von Till, Genghis Tron’s Mookie Singerman, Disfear’s Uffie Cederland, and Cave-In’s Steve Brodsky, J.R. Conners and Adam McGrath. This, in part, contributes to the diverse nature of the album, which is by no means short on surprises. Converge have never been afraid to take on the unexplored or the unexpected in the past, and whether an attempt at something entirely new or a revamp of the familiar Converge pummel of old, every minute of Axe to Fall sounds remarkably fresh, and razor sharp for that matter.
Fittingly, the band launches the album with the same kind of white-hot energy and destruction that’s been their calling card. Leadoff track “Dark Horse” is one of the catchiest tracks in the band’s discography, propelled by drummer Ben Koller’s Discharge-style d-beat rhythms and Kurt Ballou’s lightning fast riffs. Vocalist Jacob Bannon retains his frequently indecipherable, often terrifying screaming style, but the melody is nonetheless the headlining feature here. “Wishing Well,” meanwhile, is a roaring punk rock standout, complete with a chorus thick with gang vocals. The amazing “Slave Driver” slows the tempo down slightly, but Ballou still jabs out his jaw-dropping riffs at a pace just this side of breakneck. And “Dead Beat” switches back and forth between melodic, post-hardcore verses and staggering grindcore electrotherapy. Yet even in some of their less melodic face-rippers, they’ll inject a hook or two, such as the Southern riffs that kick off “Losing Battle,” or the mosh-pit ready machine gun break in “Reap What You Sow.”
When stretching past the three-minute mark, Converge reaches into a churning post-hardcore grind, heavily bolstered by Nate Newton’s distorted, meaty bass riffs. “Worms Will Feed/Rats Will Feast” is one such highlight, all low-end tremor and chug, while “Damages” lurches with ominously ringing bass that roars like an apocalyptic belltower. The Tom Waits-like blues of “Cruel Bloom,” in which Von Till’s grumble is front and center, is likely to catch more than a few listeners off guard. Just one track later, in epic closer “Wretched World,” Converge’s doom dirge takes their sound far from the two-minute menace they’ve since mastered and into something a bit more accessible but no less powerful.
As the aughts come to a close, few metal bands have delivered with a similar kind of dazzling consistency that Converge has. They certainly exist—Mastodon and Isis come to mind—but it’s hard not to be left stunned by Converge’s commitment to making such vicious sounds transcendent. Axe to Fall easily has the chops to stand alongside the best albums in the band’s catalog—no matter which one you consider their best—but when an album so meticulously crafted and formidable as this comes along, little can stand in its way.
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.