Axe To Fall
It’s pretty obvious that the dudes in Converge have it down by now. Despite the fact that there’s a bajillion guest musicians on Axe To Fall (and a lot of potential for things to become disjointed or lose focus) the band never seems to take a misstep. There’s a distinct feeling that they have you exactly where they want you. This confidence is threaded throughout the entire album in a ton of different ways.
Which makes sense – they’re ridiculously talented individuals and they’ve been at this for quite a while now. Kurt Ballou, Converge guitarist and engineer behind God City Studios, could most likely make a mouse fart sound like the coming Apocalypse. And Jacob Bannon – Converge vocalist, the muscle behind Deathwish Records and an influential graphic designer – is a man who understands well the concept of atmosphere. And not to dismiss Nate Newton and Ben Koller (bass and drums respectively) but it’s this merging of the sonic and visual that makes the band so appealing to me. The albums have always seemed to function best as a complete unit – mp3 files of Converge songs on shuffle just won’t really get you there. They’ll still sound good, but you’ll be missing out. The music sounds best when taken as a whole; the art and lyrics and track sequencing and production all manage to create that sense of atmosphere, that sense of place. And here the band is in flawless form – Bannon’s art is just as creepy and iconic as ever, and the myriad of guest musicians (featuring folks from Cave In, Neurosis, the Red Chord and more) consistently enhance rather than detract from.
And seriously, with all this discussion of minutiae aside, this is still dark, brooding, crazy shit that makes you feel a little bit tougher, a little bit more awesome, just by listening to it. There are still common elements: frequent occurrences of jaw-dropping technical insanity (there’s no denying that Ballou is a ridiculously talented guitarist) akin to bands like Botch, and Bannon still sounds like he can’t decide if he wants to howl his lungs out or get that tracheotomy he’s been saving up for. It still sounds like Converge, you know?
Minor differences are there, though – most notably the inclusion of a few softer elements scattered throughout. “Worms Will Feed” slows things down to a more drawn-out, punishable level (and that guitar line almost sounds like early Danzig, I shit you not), which is a needed break by track five. Again, there’s that idea of pacing. And the final two songs, “Cruel Bloom” and “Wretched World”, serve as those kind of epic closers that try their damnedest to leave you with a prolonged sense of foreboding – like the other shoe is just about to drop and you’re totally stoked about it. Neurosis’s Steve Von Till channels Tom Waits in the first half of “Cruel Bloom” and, with the inclusion of haunting background vocals, piano and glockenspiel, it works ridiculously well.
Axe To Fall is a seamless addition to an already impressive catalog. And it’s another intense and well-executed outing by a band that shitloads of others have and will continue to try to emulate. Worth seeking out.