Converge just released their new album, The Dusk In Us, via Epitaph Records.
For over 25 years, Converge has set the standard in the metalcore genre, and for good reason. After starting out in the Massachusetts hardcore scene, Converge rose to popularity in the late 90’s along with their contemporaries in chaotic, technical metallic hardcore, such as Botch and The Dillinger Escape Plan. However, what set them apart from their contemporaries wasn’t the furious, mesmerizing technicality and skill of guitarist Kurt Ballou and drummer Ben Koller, or the abrasive, often screeched yelps from vocalist Jacob Bannon. It was the way those harsh, surgically precise, mind-bending elements converged (see what i did there?) to create a sense of tension, and even beauty and poeticism, far above what arguably any other artist has been able to create in either hardcore or metal.
Their 2001 release Jane Doe is what broke them through, both musically and in the conscience of the music scene at large. Consisting mostly of 2-3 minute bursts of chaos, virtuosity, impenetrably cutting vocals, and raw emotion, it can be a difficult listen, especially to those unaccustomed to that kind of music. That album was my first exposure to Converge, and on first listen I didn’t understand it, it sounded like noise to me. Countless listens later, and it remains one of my all time favorites, and remains just as hair-raising and emotionally potent as it did the first time it really ‘clicked’ with me. Subsequent releases by them have all been at or near the same level of quality, though a lot of it is much more accessible. Clean singing, actual melodies, and slow, tension-building songwriting have since been integrated into their sound, while still not diverging much from what made them such a special band in the first place.
The Dusk In Us comes five years after their last record, and obviously my expectations were high. Unsurprisingly, Converge didn’t fail to amaze me once again, as this might be my favorite of theirs since Jane Doe, and that’s not exactly faint praise considering the four albums in between the two are all classics in their own right. Throughout their discography, Converge have been particularly adept at opening their records, leading off with something that will leaving a lasting impression. The opener of this album, “A Single Tear,” is no exception, in fact it may very well be one of my favorite Converge songs period. Musically, on first listen, I was absolutely floored. The lead riff is mesmerizing, and the chorus is anthemic and pounding. From the opening seconds this song grips you, and around two minutes in, the previously chaotic and frenetic playing becomes melodic and emotional, with Koller’s drums swirling in the background until it builds up to the chorus again. The lyrics on this song are some of the most powerful they’ve ever written, reflecting on becoming a father for the first time. While I can’t personally relate, the overarching theme of finding purpose, especially in someone else, really resonates with me, and combined with the music sends chills down my spine every time, even like 20 spins later.
The next few songs are much, much angrier, reminiscent of their Jane Doe/When Forever Comes Crashing era. The chaotic hardcore of “Eye of the Quarrel” and single “I Can Tell You About Pain” describe a relationship in decay, the latter featuring an earth-shattering breakdown at the end. Metalcore is known for its overuse of breakdowns, but Converge know when and how to properly utilize them. The brutal, slow, sludgy track “Under Duress” is another highlight, with lyrics that almost anyone could relate to about life’s stressors and how they can break a person down completely.
The true centerpiece of this album, however, is the 7-minute long title track. A true change of pace from the chaotic nature of the album, the song is a slow, atmospheric, tense epic that is almost entirely sung, not screamed. Converge rarely have songs this long, but when they do it’s always mind-blowing, and this was no exception. Starting off haunting, minimal and ethereal, the tension builds slowly until the instruments crescendo and absolutely overpower the senses until it all comes crashing down in a sludgy, heavy climax. As usual, Bannon’s lyrics take this song to another level. Essentially revealing the meaning behind the name of the album, the lyrics describe how we have darkness and trauma inside us, and that they can become amplified during our weakest moments, but that we all have the strength to overcome them and carry on despite the fact that they may never go away.
The final two tracks of the album are also standouts. “Thousands Of Miles Between Us,” the penultimate track, is also the least abrasive. Like many tracks on the album, it deals with coping from the pain of life’s traumas and picking up the pieces and moving on. That concept is also reflected in the last track “Reptilian,” a perfect closer for this incredible album. It begins with a slow, sludgy riff that slowly builds into the main riff which is then accompanied by massive drumming. During the bridge, which leads to the climatic and cathartic last minute of the song, Bannon shouts, “We must lose sight of the shore to know what courage means / We must lose sight of who we are to know what we can be,” which draws back to the title track and the universal theme prevailing throughout the album. Great people do arise from tragedy, and one can’t be successful or true to themselves without having their comfort ripped away from them at some point. Yet still, life’s horrors and tragedies are a double edged sword, while they can make you stronger, they can also break you down and ruin you.
Most artists, even many of my favorites, you can’t expect to release albums of a high caliber every time. Converge are an exception; for over two decades, they’ve only been releasing high quality, incredible music while still staying true to what made them so exceptional in the first place, without wearing out anything or staying in their comfort zone. And again, they have raised the bar. Not just in its genre, not just in the metal and hardcore scenes, this band is on a level unmatched by virtually anyone else in music period. Musically, this is one of their finest performances yet. Kurt Ballou’s guitar work (as well as production) is flawless, innovative, and as unrelentingly technical and furious as ever, and the same could be said for Ben Koller’s drumming. Jacob Bannon is still at the top of his game vocally, which is incredible considering his age and the style of vocals he normally does, and not much more needs to be said for his lyrical ability. Converge have outdone themselves yet again, and this record is probably my favorite of the year, and this time I really don’t see anything beating it. Even if you’re not into metal or hardcore at all, I would suggest giving this a try.