Axe to Fall
In Converge’s world, you can never have too many career-defining albums | Epitaph
This could be it—converge’s finest hour and most accessible album. Not because of its staggering guest list (including key members of Neurosis, Genghis Tron and Cave In) or Jacob Bannon’s brisk BPM (barks-per-minute) rate; because it strikes the perfect balance between dry-heaved hardcore—blunt
trauma tracks that bleed into one another and hover around the 1:40 mark—and post-metal opuses that embrace Converge’s experimental impulses, from a squealing sax and persistent piano lines to stained-glass synths and a goddamn glockenspiel.
None of which sounds that surprising; not in the context of cuts that are dragged through the dirt and riff-stoked four-alarm fires. In fact, Axe to Fall sounds like a logical extension of 2004’s You Fail Me, an album that chased its adrenaline shots (“Hope Street,” “Eagles Become Vultures”) with charred folk (“In Her Shadow”) and post-apocalyptic AmRep allusions (“You Fail Me”). It’s missing one key element, though: a supporting cast of singers and sidemen, seamlessly integrated into Converge’s core quartet as if they’d been here all along. That right there is Axe to Fall’s crowning achievement—Kurt Ballou’s ability to make sense out of more than 15 special guests. Hell, “Wretched World” alone invites Genghis Tron’s three members over for a dewy duet that also features two drummers, Cave In’s J.R. Conners and the Red Chord’s Brad Fickeisen. The overall effect is a stunning one, like a patient, IDM-free version of Genghis’ own “Won’t Come Back Alive” single or a parallel universe where Converge stand in for the Cure during their psych-damaged Disintegration days. Speaking of welcome detours, Steve Von Till and a “backing vocal choir” turn “Cruel Bloom” into a histrionics free Tom Waits track. At least until the rug is yanked from beneath us, elbowing the guy’s gravelly singer-songwriter side out of the way in favor of a slight Neurosis nod.
Elsewhere, Converge deliver clusters of pit-pleasers, aided in part by some incredibly sick, blink-and-you’ll-miss-’em solos from Steve Brodsky (“Effigy,” quite possibly a preview of Converge and Cave In’s long-promised supergroup), Disfear’s Uffe Cederlund (“Wishing Well”) and F. Sean Martin (“Reap What You Sow”), the towering guitarist who quit Hatebreed to become a beat conductor for Cage and other underground rap acts. So, yeah—good luck wrapping your head around this one, especially since it’s sequenced in a way where the only breathers are in the middle (the sewer-dwelling noisecore of “Worms Will Feed”) and at the end (the aforementioned one-two punch of “Cruel Bloom” and “Wretched World”).
Considering Converge’s life span (nearly two decades, give or take a few sabbaticals and side projects), we can only hope that this isn’t the apex of what they have to offer. But hey, if it is, at least they’re going out screaming, with a record that rivals Jane Doe and anything else that’s come out this year. —Andrew Parks