The first time I ever saw anyone do a backflip in a moshpit was at a Converge show. The Boston hardcore veterans have always been that type of band — the type whose furious, roiling blasts practically demand new forms of physical expression in response. For more than a quarter century, Converge have taken aggression and anxiety and rage and fear and blurred them into one ferocious whole, a kind of music that’s all angles and elbows. The entire metalcore subgenre owes its life, more or less, to Converge, but they’ve never been comfortable with that label, and they shouldn’t be comfortable in that label. There’s hardcore in Converge’s music, and there’s metal, but the music they make is primal and intense and otherworldly enough that it almost exists outside genre tags. (I used “hardcore” in that second sentence because Converge are culturally hardcore — that show with the backflipping guy was a Sunday-afternoon matinee with Glassjaw — but “hardcore” has never quite fit as a descriptor of their music.) In their early years, Converge’s style was mathematical brutalism, so dense and off-kilter that it could inspire a kid to go from kickboxing and windmilling to straight-up gymnastics. In later years, Converge discovered dread and groove and atmosphere, and some of their songs became Neurosis-style monster-trudges that were somehow even more intense than the geometric blasts of old. But for all the ways that they’ve changed, and all the ways that they’ve changed the face of heavy music, it’s still pretty goddam striking that The Dusk In Us, Converge’s first album in five years, opens with a love song.
“A Single Tear,” the song that leads off The Dusk In Us, sounds, at first, like a raw motherfucking Converge rager. It’s got some seasick riffs and some discordant shredding from guitarist Kurt Ballou, and it finds bassist Nate Newton and drummer Ben Koller, quite possibly the most locked-in rhythm section in all of underground music, absolutely taking no prisoners. Jacob Bannon’s voice is an urgent, throat-shredded screech that can turn into an anguished alone-in-the-desert wail or a godlike rumble; it does both on “A Single Tear.” It’s also, much of the time, virtually incomprehensible, though you can at least pick out maybe 40% of the words this time. Still, without a lyric sheet, I wouldn’t have known that “A Single Tear” is a song about love. But that’s what it is — not romantic love, but the all-consuming protective love that you feel while becoming a parent.
“A Single Tear” being a Converge song, that feeling is all shot through with dread and anxiety and rage. And let me tell you motherfuckers: Those are things that you absolutely will feel if you have kids in 2017. You will feel the guilt of leaving them a world that seems ready to fall apart at the slightest provocation, of sending them to schools where they practice lockdown drills in case someone shows up with a gun, hoping to kill as many children as possible. “A Single Tear” isn’t even about those things; I’m sure I’m projecting my own shit on it. The song is about trying to become worthy — about interrogating yourself, finding yourself lacking, and forcing yourself to become the person that your kids need: “You gifted me / With such a precious thing / A chance to be someone / Who deserved love.” It’s a terribly moving song, and it’s also a song that might conceivably inspire someone to attempt a moshpit backflip.
As with the last few Converge albums, The Dusk In Us comes frontloaded with short, chaotic ragers, and then it transitions into slower, doomier fare. But this time, it feels less like a side-A/side-B situation. The faster, more insane songs have more of a sense of groove to them, and the longer, heavier songs feel like they’re always ready to erupt into violence. The album’s centerpiece, the downright eerie seven-minute title track, bisects the album. That song is calm but also dark and menacing. Bannon doesn’t do much screaming on that song. Instead, he brings things down to a whisper, talking about hidden and creeping dangers: “And at night they come / When protectors are gone / Not in waves / But in shadows.” The songs on either side of “The Dusk In Us” are dense eruptions, leaving that one song to feel like the eye of the hurricane. But as stark and tense and bruising as the album can get, the band gives off a sense of melodic confidence all through it. It might be the most approachable album in Converge’s deep catalog.
That doesn’t mean it’s life-affirming, though. In the context of the album, “A Single Tear” works less to set the tone than to establish the stakes. If you’ve got kids to look after, all the fucked-up things in the world seem that much more dangerous. And The Dusk In Us is an album full of warning and lamentation: “Born into such a cruel, cruel world / Survival can be such a cruel, cruel curse.” A song like the minute-long death machine “Cannibals” gets into some heavy shit about human nature: “Crocodile tears / Extinguished empathy / And we will not survive / If this is all there is.” But “Reptilian,” the album’s monumental closing track — a song that’s weirdly beautiful for all its heaviness — ends on a note offering something like hope: “We must lose sight of the shore to know what courage means / We must lose sight of who we are to know what we can be.”
In the five years since Converge released the amazing All We Love We Leave Behind, the members of Converge have kept themselves busy with a whole lot of other projects: Wear Your Wounds, Old Man Gloom, Mutoid Man, All Pigs Must Die, Kurt Ballou’s peerless career as the greatest producer working in heavy music today. And so when they all come back together for this album, it feels miraculous, like some sort of underground-music Voltron reassembling itself. These guys all know exactly what they’re doing, and as great as those other bands may be, they’ve got a greater chemistry with one another than they have with anyone else. They’re the Golden State Warriors of this shit — so dazzlingly talented together that it almost doesn’t feel fair to compare them to other bands. Maybe because they’ve taken that time off, they’re able to approach their music with a renewed intensity; if anything, they’re an even more potent unit now than they were last time. And maybe it’s because of all the shit that’s happened in the world since the last time we heard them, but what they’re doing now feels as urgent as it ever has. Converge will never release another album as influential as their 2001 masterpiece Jane Doe. But in The Dusk In Us, they’ve made something that could be just as powerful. Don’t hurt yourself trying to backflip to it.
Other albums of note out this week:
• Sam Smith’s misleadingly titled bummed-out adult-contempo return The Thrill Of It All.
• Shamir’s personal DIY-rock reinvention Revelations.
• Tomas Barfod’s slick, melodic dance album Paloma.
• Gunn-Truscinski Duo’s heady, meditative Bay Head.
• Bad History Month’s self-examining DIY LP Dead And Loving It: An Introductory Exploration of Pessimysticism.
• Mai Lan’s idiosyncratic pop LP Autopilote.
• Jonti’s bright, colorful electronic album Tokorats.
• Rabit’s haunted, desolate Les Fleurs Du Mal.
• Lost Horizons’ atmospheric, emotional debut Ojalá.
• Pope’s downcast fuzz-rocker True Talent Champion.
• The Cornshed Sisters’ playful folk-popper Honey & Tar.
• Bibio’s studio psych-popper Phantom Brickworks.
• Null + Void’s moody, ominous debut Cryosleep.
• Liima’s synthy, nocturnal 1982.
• Friendship’s conversational, heartfelt Shock Out Of Season.
• Miya Folick’s Give It To Me EP.
• S U R V I V E’s remix EP RR7387.
• Anna St. Louis’ First Songs cassette.