The tenth track of Converge’s landmark 2001 album Jane Doe, “Phoenix In Flames,” is a terrifying 42-second storm of distorted drums and the piercing shrieks of vocalist Jacob Bannon. It sounds like it was recorded while the studio was being engulfed in some sort of horrible disaster, and reaches its climax with one of Bannon’s most blood-chilling cries put to tape. 11 years later, Converge’s eighth full-length, All We Love We Leave Behind, takes that track’s same thematic arc and stretches it into a harrowing 38 minutes. It’s an album preoccupied with the passing of time and reconciliation of such passage, hurtling towards oblivion with its head held high, brazenly staring the forces that are thrown its way dead in the eye and never yielding. Labels like “punk,” “hardcore,” or “metal” simply don’t work anymore. This is pure, unadulterated energy, seething catharsis taken out on throats, fingers, fretboards and drum heads by a band going on 22 years, and showing no signs of weakness or irrelevancy.
2009’s Axe To Fall painted a slightly different picture. Bringing in a deep cast of friends and fellow musicians to provide vocals and additional guitar work gave the still-crushingly heavy album an almost jovial feel, exposing some degree of warm humanism behind the hellish screams and finger-snapping guitar leads. There are no such niceties (or friends) to be found here. Working once again as a tight, four-person unit, guitarist Kurt Ballou resolved to capture as true of a recording to their live sound as possible. It’s the rawest sounding thing they’ve put out since parts of 2004’s You Fail Me, but imbued with an additional decade’s worth of Ballou’s accumulated production know-how, which means for as much as his guitar spews caustic feedback, elements like Nate Newton’s always crucial bass and the consistently jaw dropping drumming of Ben Koller still connect with sledgehammer force.
So, it sounds great, and it feels great, but what about the actual songs? The album’s first half contains most of of the full-blown chaos, from the sky-reaching verses of first single “Aimless Arrow,” the taunting snarls of “Trespasses,” and the epileptic sprint of “Sadness Comes Home.” On the slower front is the menacing chug of “Glacial Pace” and the beautiful trudge of “Coral Blue,” the closest thing to a ballad attempted here. Bannon strikes the perfect balance between anguish and anger as a vocalist, splitting his time between scorching the earth, wailing to the stars, and delivering dead-eyed incantations.
There are several familiar elements that pop up on All We Love We Leave Behind. A guitar pattern here that could’ve fit on You Fail Me, a sub two-minute blast there that could slot nicely on the first half of No Heroes, or a swampy crawl that wouldn’t be out of place on Axe To Fall‘s experimental-minded closing chunk. But the reason Converge succeeds once again is in their dogged commitment to treating their past as something to be lovingly acknowledged rather than a crutch. The lunar cycle on All We Love We Leave Behind‘s cover could be seen as a nod to this, but could more accurately be interpreted as a pledge to always keep moving forward. They haven’t disappointed yet.