Since at least as early as Jane Doe, the celebrated 21st century cult metalcore album that turned 20 in September, every Converge album has seemed to present the sound of two complementary but distinctive bands. The foundation of Converge’s sound—a blistering, sinewy ironman-competition update of hardcore that set a force of sheer destruction to complicated time signatures—shared album space with a growing fascination with dark doom-metal and noise-rock textures, longer in duration, more slack in BPMs. The latter formed the basis of a series of shows the band performed five years ago under the banner of “Bloodmoon,” a show that phased out minute-long pit-starters like “Concubine” in favor of the Swans-like highlights of You Fail Me or the expansive closing pair on Axe to Fall.
Converge haven’t retired the rippers, but over time those songs—and the young male angst behind them—has become less representative of what the band is, their last full-length, 2017’s The Dusk In Us, informed more by a slower, sludgier approach and vocalist Jacob Bannon’s maturation into fatherhood. And with the unanticipated reveal of the identity of the model who inspired Jane Doe‘s cover art, 20 years of mystique came to an unceremonious end, signaling a kind of symbolic death of that era of the band. That’s, perhaps, oversimplifying a bit, but in segmenting “Bloodmoon” as the more hypnotic, slow-burning counterpart to their rib-bruising hardcore aesthetic, they effectively opened the door to a new and fruitful avenue of exploration, one that comes into full view with Bloodmoon: I.
Made in collaboration with Chelsea Wolfe and Cave In’s Stephen Brodsky (who’s had a pretty busy year, also performing with Quicksand), Bloodmoon: I is a meal-sized helping of the kinds of muscular, sinister ballads and dirges that have been conquering more of the group’s album-side real estate over the past two decades. It’s not a hardcore record but a dense and intricate piece of gothic doom metal that employs the stylistic and literal voices of the band’s collaborators as much as their own. There are moments that feel closely connected to Jupiter-era Cave In (“Failure Forever”), and those that capture the gothic majesty of Chelsea Wolfe’s recent heavy work (most songs, really). And yet, when Ben Koller kicks up the d-beat gallop of “Viscera of Men”—a moment that lasts for a too-brief 20 seconds—it’s unmistakable who the ringleaders of this venomous circus really are.
Though the roots of the project began with existing songs from the band’s back catalog, Bloodmoon: I finds Converge taking the kernel of those ideas and expanding them into maximalist extremes, building out crunchy sludge and doom metal tracks with acoustic guitars, pianos, synthesizers and a chorus of voices. Upon first listen it’s hard not to be overwhelmed by everything that’s going on, particularly within opening track “Blood Moon,” a dense and dizzy staircase climb that juxtaposes Bannon’s abrasive growls against Wolfe’s melodic verses to stunning effect. “Coil” offers a similarly gripping saga within its six minutes, its introductory acoustic plucks gathering layers and layers over its duration until it finally becomes an over-the-top gothic-doom symphony. It comes very close to crossing the line of good taste, but its indulgences are kept in check from the bubbling intensity that rises up beneath its gilded exterior.
That Bloodmoon: I is so frontloaded with lengthy showcases of Converge’s newfound grandeur might slightly overshadow both the diversity in songwriting on the album, as well as how much fun a lot of these songs are. The badass groove of “Tongues Playing Dead,” the punchy hard rock of “Lord of Liars,” the Morricone blues of “Scorpion’s Sting”—the standout moments come pretty heavily stacked throughout the album, and each one seems to harbor some fascinating new surprise, some of which might temporarily make you forget you’re listening to a Converge album. Bloodmoon: I isn’t a complete left-field turn for Converge , especially not when compared to something like their extended, very weird “Endless Arrow” remix. That the band pushed themselves as far as they did, while incorporating a pair of prominent collaborators in the process—whose presence only enhances their vision—reveals how far they’ve come since the bare-bones brutality of their youth.
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.