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Posts Tagged ‘Converge’

Friends, if you’ve stayed with me throughout these trying times, you are all saints.  We have at last reached the end of these old reviews I found sitting around on an old external hard drive, meaning that we will shortly be returning you to the regularly-scheduled amount of overwrought verbiage and incomprehensible sarcasm.  I am just as relieved as you.

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Converge, You Fail Me (2004)

Is that supposed to be an ape hand or something?

Although Converge had long been one of extreme music’s most respected and hard-working bands, the landmark acclaim and success they achieved with 2001’s Jane Doe guaranteed that crafting a follow-up that satisfied fans and critics without sacrificing their creative progression would be no small task.  With You Fail Me, however, Converge has again succeeded admirably, delivering a swift kick to the head of all those who would doubt their conviction or ability to continue producing scathingly intense music with a very real emotional core.

For the most part, the songs on You Fail Me display many of Converge’s trademarks: furiously churning guitars that duel and collide with the drums to form chaotic, echoing rhythms, Jacob Bannon’s tortured, animalistic wailing, and breakneck tempos.  Nowhere is this tradition better upheld than in standout tracks such as “Black Cloud,” “Eagles Become Vultures,” and “Heartless,” with its stuttering, chanting finale.  What truly makes this album stand out from the rest of Converge’s thoroughly accomplished oeuvre are the small refinements of their sound.  For example, the mesmerizing guitar melody that carries the latter half of “Drop Out” helps to elevate the lyrics above the whipping maelstrom of the drums and bass.  “First Light” begins the album with a melancholic solo guitar line so languid that it threatens to dissipate into pure feedback.  “Last Light” offers another unique take on Converge’s often barely controlled chaos: more so than on any other song, it is the propulsive drums that carry this piece all the way through, from the simple guitar chords of its intro to the convulsive breakdown at its conclusion.

The true heart of this album, however, must be the back-to-back ordering of its two longest songs, “You Fail Me” and “In Her Shadow.”  The monstrous title track is deceptively simple, but its power comes from its sheer bludgeoning force.  Though a simple, plodding rhythm forms the song’s foundation, more layers are gradually added, and when the song reaches its peak, the results are truly massive.  “In Her Shadow,” as it opens with a gently strummed acoustic guitar, would seem to be a welcome respite from the blistering title track.  Gradually, though, it becomes something much more sinister.  The vocals throughout are ghostly, mirroring the feedback in which the whole piece is awash.  As the song progresses, it builds and builds, always threatening to overtake itself.  Once the drums enter, they lead the song into martial disarray, and by the time the song reaches its climax, the drums are about all that can be reasonably distinguished from the underlying chaos; in fact, certain moments of this song wouldn’t be out of place on a Neurosis album.

In the end, though, what makes this album so convincing, like Jane Doe before it, is that it brutally pummels the listener not just with aggression, but also with emotion.  You Fail Me is significantly shorter than Jane Doe, however, and the emotional tone is markedly different as well.  No matter what one may be able to decipher from Jacob Bannon’s excellent lyrics, it is indisputable that there lies at the core of them some real anguish.  Although Jane Doe had its fair share of anger, there was hope, too, perhaps most notably in the way the closing track faded out amidst Bannon’s glorious shouts of “Run on!”  By contrast, the anger throughout You Fail Me feels a bit more resigned, a bit more desperate.  On the closing track, “Hanging Moon,” Bannon begins his entreaty of “Be my light in this world of darkness,” but the song, and the album, cuts him tragically short, allowing only for the words “Be my…”  Perhaps there is hope in that, too.  What is certain, however, is that Converge has made another haunting record that is just as likely to make you weep as it is to kick in your teeth.

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Okay, well maybe that one wasn’t so bad.  Back up to my typical standards of pretension, at least.  Seriously, though: Can you imagine many other bands, following up an album as thoroughly-masturbated-about as Jane Doe, putting out such an abrasively honest, emotionally-damaged statement as this?  You Fail Me remains, in my opinion, a criminally underrated episode in Converge’s rightly-feted discography.

Anyway, that’s it for my vault-plundering exploits.  Thanks for coming along for the ride; sorry about all the sick in the passenger’s seat.  Occupational hazard of reading old writing, I figure.  Be my light in this world of darkness, won’t you?

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I’ve been thinking lately about the sheer level of inundation that we followers of music face these days.  In many ways, I think this is a fantastic development, particularly with the healthy state of the underground’s manifold scenes and subcultures.  Maybe, on the other hand, that supposed strength is really just a reflection of the crippling weakness of the traditional music industry.  Important questions, but not exactly what I’m concerned with here.

You see, I’ve got a sneaking suspicion that I don’t really know my music all that well.  Sure, I know a whole lot about music, but what I’m thinking is, basically, holy shit, I have got so much different music at my disposal each and every minute of every day that there is no way I can possible distinguish between it all.

To that end, I’m forcing myself to do a blind listening test.  I’ve collected all the metal in my iTunes onto a playlist, and I am going to put it on random, turn off my computer monitor so as to disallow any cheating, and then attempt to identify the first ten songs that come up on the playlist.  Find my running commentary below, with the actual results in brackets below each guess.  See you on the other side.
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1.  So, this is a pretty tasty morsel right here.  When it first played through, I was thinking it was something along the lines of the melodic death metal attack of God Dethroned.  Now that this chorus of ‘Stigma Diabolicum’ kicks in, however, I’m pretty sure that this is Austrian black/death metal horde Belphegor.  Definitely from one of their more recent albums, but I sure as hell couldn’t tell you which one.

I’ll take a stab at it, and say I think it’s from that album whose goddamn name escapes me at the moment, but not the most recent one (Hexenwahn whatever), nor from Bondage Goat Zombie, so their third most recent.

[It was: Belphegor, “Stigma Diabolicum,” but that IS from Bondage Goat ZombiePestapokalypse IV was what I was thinking of, but I was wrong to do so.  Anyway, I’m still counting that one as correct.]

2.  Hmm, I’m at quite a loss on this one.  It starts off with some black noise-ish segments, before kicking into some seriously crypt-kicking production, low echoing death howls, and a generally chaotic riff-and-drum attack.  My best guess is that this is from Weapon’s Drakonian Paradigm album.

[It was: Mitochondrion, “Wraithlike,” from Archaeaeon.  Definitely haven’t spent enough time with that record, but I don’t think that Weapon guess is too far off.]

3.  Son of a bitch this is all going to be embarrassing.  This starts off all jangly and reverb-y, so I’m thinking definitely 90s black metal.  But, shit, those vocals are all death gurgly, plus there’s a total Ihsahn howl in there somewhere.  It’s not Emperor, but it might be one of those classic mid-90s black/death hybrids like Dawn or Sacramentum.  I suppose it’s also possible it’s Naglfar or something like that, but the death influence seems a bit too strong for that.

Fuck, I’ve got tons of wild guesses, but no great ones.  Vocals now sound like Jonas Renske’s on Bloodbath.  Hmm.  Maybe I’m forgetting some old more straight-ahead Katatonia side project?  Anyway, I’m going with my first instinct, which was Dawn, from the Slaughtersun record.

[It was: Aeternus, “Dark Rage,” from Shadows of Old.  So, I was totally on the right track with that ‘classic but underappreciated black/death hybrid from the mid- to late 90s’ jag.  Just turns out that I am no better than all the rest at appreciating Aeternus.  Killer tune, although I prefer their first two records.]

4.  Crazy chamber music intro.  Is this from the new Sigh?  Oh, wow.  Embarrassing.  I’ve just mistaken Serj Tankian’s live, all-orchestral run through of his solo album Elect the Dead for Japan’s finest psychedelic black metal blasters.  Apologies to everyone involved.  Anyway, this, for sure, is Serj Tankian.  Tracks called “Money,” I think.

[It was: Serj Tankian, “Money,” from the Elect the Dead Symphony.  Clearly an unqualified win, there, but I kinda want to shave off some points just for thinking it was Sigh.]

5.  Ah, thankfully an easy one on which I will not embarrass myself.  This is Isis.  Or, at least, this is one of the tracks from the double-disc collection of reinterpretations of songs from Isis’ landmark 2002 (?) album Oceanic.  Couldn’t exactly tell you which track this is, but it’s one of the mellower ones, currently playing around with some nice organ tones, and then throwing Aaron Turner’s hoarse bellows out in the middle of this sparse instrumental expanse.  Very cool to hear this fantastic album broken down into its constituent pieces.

[It was: Isis, “The Other,” as interpreted/remixed by James Plotkin, from the Oceanic: Remixes/Reinterpretations compilation.  Success.]

6.  Whoa, that’s a harsh fucking contrast.  At first I thought this was Ildjarn, such is the hideous level of lo-fi noise emanating from my speakers at the moment.  On further consideration, though, my best guess is that this is very early Emperor, from the self-titled/Wrath of the Tyrant CD reissue.  And yet, and yet…  Damn, I’m second-guessing myself something fierce now.  Nope, sticking with Emperor.  Damned if I know the song, though.  Shameful.

[It was: Belketre, “Demzreyavbtre Belketraya,” from Ambre Zuerkl Vuorhdrevarvtre.  SON OF A BITCH.  Of course there is absolutely no reason for you to believe me now, but up there, when I wrote “I’m second-guessing myself something fierce now,” I absolutely was going to say “This sounds like it could also be some of that LLN stuff, maybe Belketre or Vlad Tepes.”  Fuuuuuuck.  Sorry Ihsahn, sorry Norway, sorry France.]

7.  Man, am I really making a poor showing of this.  At first blush, this track sounds like something tribal-ish and noisecore-y (adjectives are not my strong suit this morning).  Gets a bit more blasting, and then when the vocals kicks in, I’m fairly certain that’s Steve Austin’s coruscating howl, so I think this is Today is the Day.  Now that I think about it, that makes good sense, since I think this is from when TITD had Bill and Brann from Mastodon in the band.  So, again, I’ve got no clue on the track title, but I think this is Today is the Day from In the Eyes of God.  Fingers crossed.

[It was: Converge, “Letterbomb,” from When Forever Comes Crashing.  Wow.  Just, wow.  I totally thought this was Converge at first, but then I gradually convinced myself that those vocals were not, in fact, Jacob Bannon but were, instead, Steve Austin.  Shit.  Still, goes to show that either Converge can pull off some fucking metal sounding production earlier on, or that Today is the Day were never as metal as one thought.]

8.  Extended instrumental intro section makes song identification a bit tricky, folks.  Let’s kick in some fucking metal, eh?  Oh, that was the whole song?  Well, fuck you very much.  I don’t know, man.  I literally have NO CLUE what this is.  I’m also about 100% sure that this is NOT a song by The Ocean, but that’s what I’m going to guess anyway.

[It was: Tombs, “Story of a Room,” from Winter Hours.  Man, that sucks.  I really love that record.  Out of context, I guess it’s a lot trickier to match guitar tone to artist.  Still, I knew it wasn’t The Ocean.  Just had to put any old shit down.]

9.  This is a pretty nimble, black/folk attack.  My first inclination is to go with Borknagar.  Yep, there’s good ol’ Vintersorg.  Pretty unmistakable timbre on that dude.  I suppose this could be Vintersorg (the project) as well as Vintersorg (the man), but I think his solo(ish) stuff never got quite so black as this.  So, I’m going to go with Borknagar.  Let’s see, when did Vintersorg join?  I’m going to hazard a guess that this track is from the Empiricism album.

[It was: Borknagar, “The Genuine Pulse,” from Empiricism.  Awesome.]

10.  This is Mastodon.  For sure.  That vaguely Southern-tinged finger-picked acoustic intro was a pretty fast giveaway.  But, sadness of sadness, I’m wavering as to which album this is from.  At first, I was thinking maybe this was from Crack the Skye, given its quite mellow character.  But, hmm.  Damn, this is shameful.  Still, now I’m maybe 80% confident that this is the closing track from Leviathan, which is called, I believe, “Joseph Merrick.”

C’mon, Mastodon, can’t you help a brother out?  Sure would be nice to close out this cavalcade of fuck-ups and metal failures with an unabashed WIN.

[It was: Mastodon, “Pendulous Skin,” from Blood Mountain.  Sweet fucking houndstooth pajamas.  So, despite being totally dead-on about Mastodon, turns out the two albums I was wheedling back and forth between were both the WRONG FUCKING ALBUM.]

(11.  As I was finishing up typing some of these comments, Mastodon faded out, and in kicks the inimitable vocals of Phil Anselmo from Down’s first album, NOLA.  Thanks, dude, for giving me another confidence booster.  Track’s called “Losing All,” but I can’t claim credit, as Anselmo actually tells you that.)

Okay, now it’s time to turn the monitor back on and see just how shittily I’ve done.
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So, I’m giving myself five out of ten.  I know I had the album wrong on a bunch of those, but I’m pleased enough to have just identified the artist correctly half the time.  And honestly, that’s quite a lot better than I thought I would do at this.

The whole point, though, is not to simply pat myself on the back, or subject myself to an extreme bout of self-castigation.  Instead, I think this is really indicative of something.  Perhaps it’s just me, but I have a feeling that I’m not alone in being in the thrall of the unending pursuit of novelty in music.

I just think, maybe, that it’s time we recognize at what cost this ragged, wide-eyed pursuit must come.

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