Once again, this one’s another barnburner to piss on the chips of the pessimists and naysayers...
Having ruthlessly delivered the goods since 97s landmark ‘Petitioning The Empty Sky’, it’s natural for a band of Converge’s stature to feel the cruel kiss of the double-edged blade to which all trailblazers are vulnerable: forever caught between the clamouring adoration of their fans and certain elements lying gloomily in wait for the perhaps inevitable slip, the descent towards mediocrity, waiting, if you will, for the axe to fall.
Once again, though, this one’s another barnburner to piss on the chips of the pessimists and naysayers, Boston’s finest chalking up another ravening 13 songs that aim straight for the jugular and don’t stop ‘til each player is wading knee-deep in clotted arterial spray. Things kick off with ‘Dark Horse’ and an eyebrow-raising change of tack, a seismic rhythm section workout that’s swiftly punctured by a careening melodic guitar break, the very concept of which (melody? On a Converge album?) leaves the listener bewildered and easy prey for one of the album’s many crushing riffs.
Rather than a worrying capitulation, this newfound ear for the melodic doesn’t tend to hamper either the band’s feral energy or brick shithouse riffing, the tearing lead coursing through ‘Reap What You Sow’, for example, neatly complimenting the song’s tormented mania. Admittedly, though, it doesn’t always work, with things reaching a rather OTT crescendo on the Stephen Brodsky-assisted ‘Effigy’, a two-minute cut that represents perhaps the album’s only true moment of weakness. Things are typically schizoid throughout, lunging from vicious two-minute tangles of barbed wire riffing and rabid hardcore blasts through to the less breathless but equally nerve-wracking likes of ‘Damages’ and ‘Slave Driver’, whose sloping, serpentine riffs, jittery rhythmic tricks and strung-out megaphone vocals call upon the tether’s-end desperation of Dazzling Killmen or The Jesus Lizard.
Through it all Jacob Bannon’s patented harpy shrieks are aided and abetted by a veritable who’s-who of fringe-metal luminaries, counting Uffe Cederlund (Entombed, Disfear), John Pettibone (Himsa) and Mookie Singerman (Genghis Tron) amongst their number, the latter taking over vocal duties for the deceptive calm of system-purging album closer ‘Wretched World’, a harrowed piece of synth-drenched shoegazing that recalls the band’s own homages to Depeche Mode and The Cure, as well as Bannon’s previous work with Supermachiner. Elsewhere, scene titan Steve Von Till (Neurosis) enters the fray for the frankly bizarre in Pan AlleyT death march of ‘Cruel Bloom’, equal parts Tom Waits stumble and post-metal tombstone-chiselling, providing yet another layer of off-kilter intrigue for the band’s bewildered fans to pick through with tweezers, a magnifying glass and scalpel.
Whichever way they choose to batter, gouge or hack away at you though, the music rises and falls with fluid ease and mind-boggling invention, bringing new ideas to previously-trod ground and constantly pushing the edges of the very parameters the band themselves helped lay, ensuring that almost two decades into a blood-streaked career, Converge are showing neither the barest hint of slippage or fatigue whilst penning some of the most frantic, ferocious and God damn unrelenting music of their lives.
It's the third and final day of Reading & Leeds! We're going out with a bang today: Gnarwolves, Marmozets, The Hives, Wovenwar, Don Broco, Issues, Architects and Of Mice & Men are all to come. Phew! Missed the rest of the weekend's action? Catch up on Friday and Saturday's rolling review pages.