Despite some kinks, Converge’s partnership with Chelsea Wolfe shows a promising new direction for the band.
Converge has always been an outfit that has prided itself on not having much of a gameplan, choosing to, instead, wing it at any given moment and proceed accordingly from there. Even now, a remarkable three decades since their formation, the hardcore punk act has refused to slow down and take stock of things; if anything, they’ve been maintaining steady speed since 2012’s All We Love We Leave Behind — a raw rallying cry of sorts that solidified the band’s rapid, almost cult-like reputation up to that point in time — which was matched on 2017’s The Dusk in Us, an equally haptic affair which continued the sustained trajectory. These last two studio albums, beloved by critics and fans alike, were defined less by their artistic innovations and more by their unyielding sonic timbre and tight, compact cohesion; as many other music publications trot out, again and again, Converge’s current line-up has remained more or less consistent since 2001 (the year Jane Doe was released, their most renowned record and last as a quintet), these albums serving as the natural output that an ensemble operating at this level of skill could reliably produce every three years or so. There’s Jacob Bannon — one of the genre’s more accomplished and emotive contemporary performers — who still sings like his distraught vocals have been thrown into the middle of a hectic brawl, howling out from the explosive combination of Ben Koller’s dynamic drumming and Kurt Ballou’s rapid, furiously angular guitar riffs. Nate Newton, bassist and occasional backup singer, is also in the mix doing his thing.
The auditory course mapped out by these two releases — both of which presented the Salem quartet as this unstoppable, barreling force of untapped energy — has all but been abandoned on Bloodmoon: I, the group’s first release since their seven-minute-long Beautiful Ruin EP back in 2018. This also happens to be their most collaborative effort since 2009’s Axe To Fall, but instead of having several guest musicians intermittently appear throughout (which included Steve “Harvestman” Von Till doing a bad Tom Waits impression), this record was conceived as an exclusively joint effort between Converge and Chelsea Wolfe. There’s prior precedent for this combination: the pair briefly toured Europe together in 2016, where they performed post-rock reinterpretations of slower-tempo Converge standards alongside Ben Chisholm (Wolfe’s creative partner) and Stephen Brodsky, the group’s former bassist. Now, after several minor delays, all seven have delivered an album’s worth of stylistically similar material to those aforementioned live shows; so infrequent as this alliance may eventually be, its inception has at least provided a bit of an arc to Converge’s current output. This release — their biggest divergence from any sort of current modus operandi — marks an end of an era; if one could characterize the band’s last decade as an expository transitional period, this album suggests a fruitful exploratory age is upon us.
On a macro-level, Bloodmoon: I takes the band in a new sonic direction — even if it’s a non-committal, one-off pivot reserved for the occasional partnership between the two parties — and into the opportune realm of symphonic, gothic doom metal. So while nobody asked for Converge to switch things up and decelerate, they themselves have already gone and done so in an organic manner that never once suggests technical stagnation or reeks of old men selling out. The title track/opener prepares listeners well for what’s to come: one keeps expecting Ballou’s guitars to start squealing, for Koller’s percussions to boom, for Banon’s voice to power through; the catharsis is eventually reached, only after considerable delay as the four continue to build in instrumental intensity. While the following “Viscera of Men” gets a little closer to the typical hyperkinetic ferocity they’re known for, Converge retires that approach with the theatrical, lethargic ballad “Coil,” one of the project’s bigger misses. The tedious track’s central issue — that grandiosity for its own sake is oftentimes just dramatic inertia — underscores many of Bloodmoon: I’s weaker moments, ones which are more noticeable by virtue of the stark contrast with the band’s standard operation. But experiments of this type are bound to have some growing pains, a few awkward kinks that could use some ironing; for now, at least, they have a course of action, and that’s all that really matters.
Published as part of Album Roundup — November 2021 | Part 3.