Review Summary: Converge creating great music as usual, though not their absolute best.
Split records are my one of my favorite aspects of punk music. I say "of punk music" because rarely have I seen split albums or EPs done outside of bands that would fall under the loosely-defined and surprisingly diverse genre of "punk music". Without splits, I would never have discovered bands such as Tragedy (through their split with Totalitar), Melt Banana (through their split with The Locust), and Monster X (through their split with Capitalist Casualties).
However, since this section only concerns Converge, perhaps I'll review Agoraphobic Nosebleed's side in another review and leave this as a review of Converge's side.
This side shows the Salem quartet (though during this recording they were still a quintet) moving into a more experimental direction than previous. This direction was already taking form with their previous recording, When Forever Comes Crashing
, with songs like "Ten Cents" and "The Lowest Common Denominator", but here we see it taken to a new level.
The side starts off with two of Converge's heaviest and most legendary songs, "Locust Reign" and "This is Mine". I mention both primarily because when played live, they often move from one into the other. The sheer brutality of these songs is mindblowing. They show off Converge's signature speed and terrifying aggression. Singer Jacob Bannon's voice, though a bit too far in the background at times, is as powerful and as scary as ever, but at times sounds a bit strained. Maybe that was his intention, to show off the sheer emotion of lyrics he writes, maybe not, but it in no way takes away from the power of these songs.
The following track takes us somewhere off the coast of the Red Sea, in some sort of desert caravan, before pummeling us with a strangulating sand storm of doom metal. "They Stretch for Miles" is a big departure from the previous songs, in that it is far slower and features a sort of Middle-Eastern melodies through use of harmonic minor and clean guitars with lots of reverb, in addition to what sounds like mallets on the drums with the chains off the snare. Jacob sings in his always erie melodic voice before heading into a trance-like chant of a chorus with bassist Nate Newton singing right along with him. Nate Newton takes over screaming during the tag, and with his deeper growling scream, the track becomes impossible to not headbang to. The track is then interrupted by an audio clip of Johnny Depp from the Terry Gilliam film adaptation of Hunter S. Thompson's Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
. Even after I read the lyrics, I'm still not sure of the significance of this clip, but maybe I'll be enlightened later on. Either way, the track is quite amazing.
The track to follow, "My Great Devastator", sounds like something Converge forgot to give us in When Forever...
. The track starts of slow and heavy, and progressively picks up into a heavy head-banger for the metalhead in all of us. Odd times and a heavy breakdown are present, so this is definitely one of your staple Converge songs. The track, though not the best on this recording, or of Converge's catalog for that matter, is still quite potent and a good listen.
Right here, I'll say right off the bat that "The Human Shield", though a definite fast-as-hell "face-ripper" (as Jacob so calls them), is nowhere near as good as the first two tracks. It's got all the makings of a good Converge tune (cool riffs, fast, heavy, Jacob's scary shriek, good breakdown) but it's just not potent. Every time I've listened to this recording, I've skipped over it. It's obvious why Converge doesn't play this song live: because it's too much at once. Maybe the fact that it has all the makings for a great track makes it all too jumbled and, dare I say, too technical/heavy for its own good.
"Minnesota", the last track, is very reminiscent of the title track of Converge's masterpiece, Jane Doe
; it's a slow, atmospheric, doom metal-tinged (almost) chill out song. The only downside of this track is that the chorus seems to be lacking a bit. The beginning of the song up until about the 2:10 mark, where the riff is decent, but rather disappointing. A new, minimalistic chug-chug riff comes to save the song from being a complete disaster. It fades (musically) out with beauty the only way Converge really can.
Now, my rating may come into question, given this review. I feel that this album deserves the 4/5 rating primarily because of the flow this recording has. Not all the songs (or parts of songs, for that matter) are that great, but the way the album flows as a whole is just spectacular - similar, in that way, to Jane Doe
. It lacks in the could-be-better production and the overuse of clips from films. Though I do appreciate when a band inserts an audio clip from a movie they enjoy into their songs (which is something many, many punk bands do, effectively or not), here it seems to be used way too gratuitously. Still, these are minor details compared to the great outcome of this side.
While it may not be Converge's absolute best (see: all of their LPs), it gives us a preview of what was to come with their next recording, Jane Doe
. The Poacher Diaries
is certainly worth purchasing, if only for this side.