Review Summary: Converge still have it in them to churn out some great music.
There has to be a time where a creative force loses all inspiration, so it seems. Once a musical group peaks, they never regain that originality, that raw vigor, and that sheer energy they brought to the table once before. For example, once “Deloused In The Comatorium”was released by The Mars Volta, the sheer greatness was never again emulated, and never had time to grow into something new. If anything, “Frances The Mute” is the closest thing to reaching Deloused status. And then of course “Octahedron” came out which is the aural equivalent to blue balls (slow jerk but no pay....) In writing, Nathaniel Hawthorne's magnum opus, “The Scarlet Letter” (let's be honest, that conclusion is nearly unanimous) never compared with any of the rest of his works which are, in comparison, above average at best. And whilst “The House of Seven Gables” is still a feat in the English language, the former novel still reigns supreme.
But this has been proven untrue several times throughout the chronology of art. Discordance Axis began as a (let's face it) superior yet run-of-the-mill grindcore outfit. Through their history, they truly progressed with not only “Jouhou”, which encompasses the band's ability to progress and broadens their horizons, and “The Inalienable Dreamless” which shows all of their progression (which improved from the former album) and matches it with a more crisp element of production to create a classic album, a magnum opus.
So where does Converge's latest effort lie? On the side of being a sheer epic? Or the polar, a jocular piece of randomly composed tracks that lacks coherency? Well, somewhere in the middle, I suppose. This album outshines every effort put forth by this prolific metalcore outfit except for You Fail Me and Jane Doe. It is armed with impressive fretwork which oftentimes incorporates eerie, high-pitched tremolos and a coherent sort of “flurry of notes” akin to grindcore. The drum work is impressive, full of frenetic double-bass patterns, high-rate snare, and tom and cymbal exercises. The bass adds some lean muscle to the mix, but it is a true rarity for it to stand out and add something special to the mix. Now, to leave the realm of the instrumentation of the album and to move onto the vocals...
The vocals, while they are raw and rough, they rarely show range, and at first listen, seem downplayed. And while these vocals are in no way bad-they are actually executed superbly-they grow old easily. However, this element of the album is soon overlooked as the album progresses, especially in the last tracks, where different vocal techniques are the only ones to be found. But the aforementioned vocal highlights come from many different guest musicians which shows not the talent of Jacob Bannon, but from the likes of Mookie Singerman.
And lyrically, this album is just okay. Converge has never been known for their poetic senses though now were they? The fault of the lyrics here is not on the subject matter so much as the lack of literary elements, poetic devices, or lyrical spark. And this is truly a morose feeling that this negative aspect on this album brings to the listener; having great potential and failing on execution is a sad thing.
So what about the individual tracks on this album? How do they exactly outshine those on their other albums? Well, just a run through of the album reveals all of the peaks and valleys located within this album. Most of these low valleys are products of poor execution rather than lackluster conception. And most of these highs show when both conception and execution meld together to form superb tracks that form a cohesive unit when combined together.
“Dark Horse” starts off the album exceptionally well. The high-rate, high-pitch guitar work is staccato, and the arpeggios add a special level of energy and vigor to the mix. After some lackluster performances (which include the title track, “Axe To Fall,” which is a grave, forgettable disappointment) the band hit a new low with the track, “Worms Will Feed/Rats Will Feast.” It's far too slow, has no direction whatsoever, and is a tedious, strenuous chore to sit through. “Damages” suffers this same plague, but has some sort of direction and gets interesting on occasion.
“Cutter” begins with a low-pitched riff that exudes extreme energy. This short track eventually incorporates several minuscule solos that pack a punch. “Effigy” is the most energetic track on the album, and incorporates eerie, screeching guitars and fast, fascinating drumming. The drums roll and blast away, and several cymbals taps and crashes are exhibited. “Slave Driver” not only includes both the high-pitched, speedy guitar work and said drumming, but brings a new style of vocalization to the mix. “Losing Battle” only exemplifies the vocal strength, the sheer prowess of the percussion instruments, and the quaint guitars and is truly a highlight.
However, the last two tracks are awesome and righteous. They're progressive indie tracks with smooth, clean vocals executed delightfully by: Steve von Till; Aimee Argote; The Rodeo; Chris Taylor; and Mookie Singerman. Not only do these vocals progress into a louder, more raucous rasp, but the instrumentation grows louder, crescendos abruptly, and the intensity increase as well. “Cruel Bloom” is more of a smooth track that involves just minute amounts of dissonance, and shows highlights vocally and conceptually. “Wretched World” takes all of these elements to the next degree. The track begins with a dissonant, melancholy tune executed by both bass and guitar. This progresses into a robotic voice segueing into a tranquil pool of music involving subtle synthesizer work, guitars, calm vocals, decent bass work, and stable drums. This track ends the album on a high note, and is the best track on the album.
To close, Converge shows their superiorities in their genre of music. They construct an exceptional album with fantastic musicianship, great vocal work, and falls flat on occasion. This album at first will disappoint. But the way that the tracks act as a cohesive unit, and the latter half of the album make this purchase worthwhile, and show why Converge still have it in them to churn out some great music.