Review Summary: Pioneers of Metalcore released a near masterpiece.
Converge have been known for taking metalcore and just stretching the possibilities of where you could take it. The band plays heavy. There is no question about that. With every album, song, and note, the band throws themselves into it as intense as humanly possible. But unlike most bands of their ilk, they change it around with every new release. Whether it's the use of electronics to help expand the sound, or just changing the overall mood, lyrically, musically, or vocally, the band always brings something new and challenging to the world of extreme music. With their first record, Caring and Killing, the band was much tamer and not as heavy as they would become. Jacob Bannon's screaming was not as mature and developed as it would later become, Kurt Ballou's guitar work lacked the experimentation and overall skill of their later works, and the rhythm section still was, well, just a rhythm section. However the real genius came about on "Petitioning the Empty Sky". Their first step into taking over metalcore, "Petitioning the Empty Sky" obliterates anything in it's way just the way their following albums would ("You Fail Me", "Jane Doe", "When Forever Comes Crashing", and "No Heroes") does, only thrashier, and more groove oriented rhythms. With this, the band goes full on and blast their way, slightly unevenly, through 8 songs of pure metalcore.
The record begins with what's one of the band's most legendary songs. "The Saddest Day" is seven minutes and three seconds of mind blowingingly fast riffs, eerie breakdowns, and blood curling screams, that are incredibly intense. Most bands can't relent like this for that long, and certainly not the way Converge does it. From the opening guitar riff to the final scream, you are full embedded into the song. You are mentally, hooked. Jacob Bannon's screaming has obviously done a great deal of maturing since Caring and Killing. Instead of the throaty, sometimes unbearable vocals that almost ruined songs like, "Two Day Romance", Bannon gave a slightly deeper, angrier, and more demonic scream, while keeping the raw emotion fully embedded into the song. Plenty of breakdowns ensue, changing the tempo several times to give the song a prominent groove. The band still had second guitarist Aaron Dalbec, and the double guitar system helped push the rhythm in the breakdown, or the chaotic speed rush, thicker and maybe tighter force than most bands at the time, as well as letting Ballou expand on his lead guitar role, with Dalbec keeping the rhythm tight. One of the things that blows me away, is how tight and rhythmic the drumming is, but how it still holds together the bands chaotic music. Damon Bellorado is not as skilled technically as current drummer Ben Koller is, but has a very good sense of rhythm, something that is needed to keep the complex music steady and on time. All in all, the Saddest Day embodies almost all that Converge is, only in an epic way.
A mere two seconds after the epic opening, you are thrown into the chugging guitars and throat shredding screams of "Forsaken". Bannon unleashes his vocals right away, right on beat with the chugging guitars. They show off Kurt Ballou's mixture of almost electronic like patterns and Aaron Dalbec's metallic backdrop. While Dalbec is not as good as Ballou, he was important in keeping the technical aspect from overshadowing the heavy aspect of the guitars. The short, to the point song ends with Jacob giving a blood curling scream of "Carry On".
The next two songs on the record show a stylistic shift into melody. "Albatross" and "Dead" are melodic and feature much more clean vocals by Jacob. "Albatross" begins with a small electronic beeping, before going straight into an emotional and distraught song, with lyrics like Five lives dead and gone. We breathe out of key and wonder. If you can hear the awkwardness in these tremors.
. "Dead" begins with a melodic guitar line, as a bass line quietly trudges behind the melody. Then the song starts up and Jacob sings clean vocals over the climatic guitar work. Jacob occasionally throws in a scream, but one minute and four seconds in, the guitars get angry and Jacob screams bloody murder at the sickness of relationships and the real deal that unfolds sooner or later."Shingles" begins with a tapping guitar lick by Kurt that actually lets Aaron expand a little with his rhythm work. While "Dead" was angry, "Shingles" is mean. The bass is menacing, and the tapping never stops pushing you around like a bully. Only with Converge, you like it. "Shingles", however, get's a little too long, and a little too repetitive for what it's good for. "Buried but Breathing" shows that the band still had their Punk influences close to them. The shortest track on the album at one minute and eleven seconds, the song ends as quick as it comes basically out of nowhere. Despite the track going back to their origins, the song contains one of the band's best lyrics, "Buried but breathing, this evening sleeps. Buried but breathing, these devils weep." The track, however shows the albums biggest, maybe it's only, flaw, uneven variety. The songs don't evolve into each other, they simply jump to one another. It keeps you on your toes, but also somewhat bewildered.
What follows is the other side of the band that is often overlooked. The band can deliver sluggish, but even more demonic drawls, that build up intensely to some of their heaviest moments. "Farewell note to this City" begins very quietly, almost inaudibly, with a small palm mutation; a pleasant riff, it tells you for some reason, that everything is alright. But you quickly change when the song goes into a very eerie vibe, with Jake whispering cryptic lyrics over a killer bass line, a faint guitar track, and a Fugaziish drum beat. It's eerie. Quiet, but heavy. The guitar gets heavier and heavier until it picks up into the chorus with Jake singing cleanly over his cryptic lyrics. After another verse the song picks up into the usual, chaotic manner, with Bannon's throat shredding screams. The up-tempo guitar riff shows off Kurt's guitar skills over some frenetic drumming. The song slows down yet again, eventually being reduced to the inaudible opening palm muting. This time however, it starts to explode but never does, leaving the listener on their heels waiting to be blown away.
The album's best moment, "Color me Blood red", starts off with Jacob muttering over a wave of feedback. The drums set in, and over it is a eerie guitar line. Before you know it, possibly one of the band's meanest moments sinks in, with the dual rhythm-lead guitar sinks in over Jacob's ever present screams. His lyrics pound out intense, and desperate lines like "Please love, just come home again. Just let this one pass, there will be another. And this after before the pain. Every deliberate hangs by my left hand.
" The band then picks up the tempo, with several percussion, and guitar breaks, that keeps your eardrums on its toes, awaiting another break, or another ferocious attack. The track ends straight and to the point, rather abruptly.
Petitioning the empty Sky shows a band making a transistion from "A bunch of Hardcore kids with leftover Slayer riffs" into one of the most legendary bands in the world of extreme music. With this record, the band is still in the middle of the transistion, and plows through unevenly. But, in all honesty, that means little. "Petitioning the Empty Sky" is a cathartic, and chaotic piece of art, embodying some of the deepest, darkest emotions a human being can behold;just as much as Jane Doe, No Heroes, or any other of the bands works does.