Review Summary: Converge's collective of lost boys does little to improve the group's sound.
Converge, the supposed kings of metalcore, have finally released a disappointing record. Considering their impressive track record, this is hardly a surprising feat. Existing for nearly twenty years, the group has constantly and consistently progressed their sound in new ways since their inception. What started out as a band of self-described kids trying to rip off Slayer has turned into one of the most interesting and well received "heavy" bands in existence. 'Axe to Fall' marks their seventh release and sees the band attempting to move into more experimental realms. Since their opus 'Jane Doe,' the group has been adjusting their sound by incorporating various other metal genres with elaborate suffixes. 'You Fail Me' saw the group slowing down and experimenting with their sound while concentrating on pummeling their audience into submission. 'No Heroes' took the opposite approach by speeding up the songs and generally reducing their sound to its bare minimum. In stark contrast, 'Axe to Fall' really does nothing to embellish on the Converge sound. The band seems out of ideas as they enlisted a group of musicians associated with the band to fill in at various points of the record. Cave In, Neurosis, and Blacklisted all have members featured on the record.
Comparing 'Axe to Fall' to the band's most recent album is almost disheartening. 'Grim Heart/Black Rose,' the centerpiece of 2006's 'No Heroes,' was a dynamic track that built through guest vocals, slews of guitar parts, and finally climaxed into a more typical Converge closer. 'Wretched World,' featuring collaborations with members of Genghis Tron, seems to follow in the footsteps of 'Grim Heart/Black Rose' as well as the title track on 2001's 'Jane Doe.' The problem with this is that the track never builds to anything. Stuttering through effected guitars and overly dramatic vocals, the song never really picks up much of a groove at any point and cuts off seemingly just as it should've started. This is the common complaint throughout 'Axe to Fall,' as the band never really feels like they are playing an album-spanning sound. Typically this would be a good thing, but for a band that has been so staunch and subtle in its progression, the work on 'Axe to Fall' just falls flat. Most of this comes from the fact that Converge have for some reason decided to make a record with their posse. One only has to look towards the genre of hip-hop to see how tremendously this often fails. Albums in general work because of their cohesiveness; 'Axe to Fall' has none. Vocals provided by Jacob Bannon take up around half the record, and then the rest of the band seems to bow out numerous times so that far less skilled musicians can take the stage. Bannon's performance in general on this record is lackluster, as the tracks he is on switch between highly distorted vocals or the shouty vocals present on 'You Fail Me's' 'Last Light.' Bannon's performance and the need for other vocalists begs the question if the singer's voice is finally going after so many years of an extensive live performance.
Collaboration is of course encouraged in all realms of music, but Converge's insistence on it for 'Axe to Fall' just begs the question "why?" For a metal band that has four of the most imaginative musicians in the genre, why replace the band on a decent portion of their new record with far less talented, less interesting musicians? Returning back to the hip-hop comparison, the record almost seems like a press release for the other musicians on the record rather than feeling like a true collaboration between bands. George Hirsch's backing vocals on the track 'Axe to Fall' sound exactly like a portion of his band Blacklisted's acclaimed 'Heavier Than Heaven, Lonelier Than God.' Steve Von Till's appearance on 'Cruel Bloom' takes Converge and makes them sound exactly like Von Till's solo work as well as his material with legendary group Neurosis. The incorporation of an acoustic track as poorly done as 'Cruel Bloom' also has to have long time Converge listeners asking "why?" after such successful attempts like 'In Her Shadow.' 'Worms Will Feed/Rats Will Feast' features some angry dude who sounds like every single post-metal singer that has no reason to even exist (I believe it is Nate Newton). Converge has always retained their place as one of the leading bands in modern metal by not conforming to the norm. 'Axe to Fall' makes the group feel like just another Deathwish Inc. band sharing links with groups as unimaginative as Trap Them or A Life Once Lost.
The overwhelming negativity of this review obviously casts me in the light of a Converge fan angry at a band that has changed. I can't say that is really how I feel, but the assumption is obviously going to be taken. 'Axe to Fall' in my eyes isn't a total disappointment - the group is able to collect themselves throughout the tracks that actually retain the essence of Converge. The band's experiments with collaboration really work on tracks like 'Reap What You Sow' and 'Wishing Well.' 'Axe to Fall' definitely has some good - even great - tracks, but the lack of cohesion really hurts the record's overall appeal. In general, 'Axe to Fall' speaks towards the stagnancy of most bands in the metal genre. The collaborators here can't even help a band as good as Converge make a solid record and when examining Converge's almost flawless discography that is wholly unexplainable. Rather than existing in a creative way, 'Axe to Fall' seems like a bad experiment and makes me wonder if anyone will care about it in two years.