Album Of The Week

Album Of The Week: Converge Bloodmoon: I

Epitaph
2021
Epitaph
2021

Last month, shortly after the 20th anniversary of Converge’s heavy-music landmark Jane Doe, the world finally learned the identity of the lady on that album cover. Ever since Converge first brought Jane Doe into the world in 2001, that cover art has been a source of fascination. Who was this lady with the statuesque cheekbones and the defiant stare? Was she the subject of the album’s tortured howls? Was she a real person at all?

As with so many things, the answer turned out to be fairly uninteresting. The woman was a model named Audrey Marnay, who’d posed for the cover of the Italian version of Marie Claire in 2001. Converge singer and graphic designer Jacob Bannon had used her image in a cut-and-paste collage. (In a statement, Bannon confirmed that Marnay’s image had been “definitely one of the sources” for the cover and that “the original goal was to create ghost-like forms that embodied the concept of ‘Jane Doe.'”) I liked the cover better when I didn’t know anything about it.

For decades, Converge have thrived on that sort of mystery, and mystery has helped make them into cult heroes. Converge come from hardcore, a musical ethos that holds the musicians on equal footing with the people who come to see them play. And yet Converge themselves always seemed somehow apart from all that — a fog-shrouded unit with unearthly gifts for off-kilter stop-start mayhem and nerve-jangled atmosphere. (It probably also helped that Bannon looked like a neck-tatted pterodactyl.) These days, the members of Converge are middle-aged dad types. They’ve got side projects and side hustles and grown-up lives. But in the right circumstances, they can still come across like wraiths moving in darkness. Their new album steers right into that mystery, to beautiful effect.

Officially, Bloodmoon: I is a Converge album, but it’s really something else. Converge itself has had the same four-man lineup since around the time that Jane Doe hit record stores. On Bloodmoon, though, the band has expanded its ranks to include some prominent collaborators. This isn’t Converge’s first time welcoming help from outside. 2009’s Axe To Fall, for instance, remains my favorite Converge album, and that’s partly because of all the members of the heavy-music world who came in to make that record sound monumental. On Axe To Fall, members of bands like Cave In, Genghis Tron, Neurosis, Blacklisted, and Entombed added layers of heft to an already-dense sound. But Bloodmoon: I isn’t a Converge record with guest appearances. It’s a complete revision of what Converge even is.

Bloodmoon: I has its roots in 2016, when Converge toured Europe and played the Dutch festival Roadburn with an expanded lineup. On that trip, the brought in doom-goth wailer Chelsea Wolfe, Wolfe’s main collaborator Ben Chisholm, and Cave In frontman Stephen Brodsky. As a group, this new version of Converge played new versions of older Converge songs, and they also covered the Cure’s “Disintegration.” These shows were not hardcore shows. Converge have long split themselves between frantic frag-grenade attacks and slow, majestic doom thunder. These sets focused on the latter, and they made these songs slower and more majestic still.

That tour started because Converge and Chelsea Wolfe were mutual fans and because a festival like Roadburn encourages that sort of stylistic departure. Stephen Brodsky had been in a couple of pre-Jane Doe Converge lineups, and Converge and Cave In had always been closely interlinked with one another. Everyone liked how the shows went, and everyone wanted to record together when they all had time. Finally, late in 2019, everyone got together at Converge guitarist Kurt Ballou’s God City studio in Massachusetts and started to work. The pandemic interrupted things, but Converge, working with Wolfe and Chisholm and Brodsky, finished Bloodmoon: I while recording remotely. You can’t really tell. It all fits together.

Stylistically and conceptually, Bloodmoon: I has a lot in common with an album that came out last year. Doom-folk singer-songwriter Emma Ruth Rundle and sludge wanderers Thou — a similar combination of dark, rapturous solo artist and feral heavy-music institution — also first came together for a Roadburn Festival collaboration. In 2020, Rundle and Thou joined forces to release May Our Chambers Be Full, an LP that was much more than the sum of its parts. Together, Rundle and Thou came up with a vast, atmospheric take on ’90s grunge. It’s hard not to compare that album to Bloodmoon: I, but Converge and Wolfe (and Brodsky and Chisholm) are very different from Thou and Rundle. On Bloodmoon: I, Converge and their collaborators land in different territories entirely.

There are great individual songs on Bloodmoon: I. Opening track “Blood Moon,” for instance, starts with tingles and groans before Wolfe’s operatic voice rings out over a slow-building riff-storm. After its hallucinatory stomp kicks in, “Blood Moon” only grows more and more delirious. It ventures into scraped-raw metal, into astral goth, and into noise-rock catharsis, before all those strains somehow unite into something even heavier.

Wolfe croons commandingly about keeping her secrets to herself: “You cut me open, but I won’t let you find/ What’s under the surface, entombed in my mind.” Bannon roars mystical invocations like they’re accusations: “The day has broken/ A stain, a crime/ You, serpent/ Deicide.” (I have no idea what this song is actually about, though I applaud the evident effort to work the names of ’90s extreme-metal heroes Entombed and Deicide into the text of the lyrics.) “Blood Moon” stretches out to nearly eight minutes, and it takes us on a real journey.

“Blood Moon” could stand as its own work, and so could plenty of the other songs on Bloodmoon: I. But I prefer to let the whole album wash over me, to fully immerse myself in all those deeply satisfying bad vibes. All the people involved in the album clearly worked to make the whole thing work as a seamless whole — lyricists Bannon, Wolfe, and Brodsky even wrote words for each other to sing — and that effort pays off. Parts of Bloodmoon: I sound a whole lot like Wolfe’s own whispery, spacious music. Other parts sound like Cave In, a band that’s gone through plenty of changes in its long life, too. On their 2000 sophomore album Jupiter, Cave In left behind the elemental metalcore of their debut Until Your Heart Stops for a monumental, Zeppelin-charged form of heavy psychedelia. With Stephen Brodsky back on board, Converge draw on that same well for much of Bloodmoon.

They draw on other things, too. Parts of Bloodmoon: I sound like zoned-out stoner-metal. Parts sound like Bad Seedsian mutant blues. Parts even sound like hardcore. These parts all feed into each other. A long quiet stretch will give way to sudden screaming catharsis, or a fast judder will bloom into a skyward melody. The end result doesn’t belong to any particular genre of music or even to any of the musicians involved. (Again: This is a Converge album, but it’s also not a Converge album.)

As lyricists, Bannon, Wolfe, and Brodsky have always spoken about internal matters in mythical terms. They generally don’t write songs about things, or if they do, they don’t broadcast the specificities of what they’re saying. Instead, they sing in allusion and imagery. In that way, they fit one another in ways that make sense. On “Flower Moon,” for instance, Brodsky intones poetry about astral matters: “Flower moon, hanging like a curse/ Puncturing the dark/ Wilting in reverse.” On “Tongues Playing Dead,” Bannon growls about a world where people don’t feel safe speaking out, and he puts it all in horror-movie terms: “Tongues in our mouths, playing dead/ Let ’em rot out of our heads.” They’re saying different things, but they’re speaking the same language.

Converge don’t crank out records the way they once did. Bloodmoon: I arrives five years after The Dusk In Us, which arrived five years after All We Love We Leave Behind. With that in mind, the Roman numeral in the Bloodmoon: I title is a cause for excitement. Working closely with these collaborators, Converge have made a record of surpassing power — one that exists in conversation with their past records without sounding too much like those records. Together, these seven people have made something beautiful. I would love to hear them make more like it. If I have to wait, I’ll wait. And if the ultimate fate of this project remains mired in mystery, that’s cool, too. Mystery suits Converge.

Bloodmoon: I is out 11/19 on Epitaph.

Other albums of note out this week:
• Adele’s 30
• Clams Casino’s Winter Flower
• Scowl’s How Flowers Grow
• Mr Twin Sister’s Al Mundo Azul
• Robert Plant & Alison Krauss’ Raise The Roof
• Makaya McCraven’s Deciphering The Message
• Brian Wilson’s At My Piano
• Leo Nocentelli’s Another Side
• Body/Dilloway/Head’s self-titled album
• Weakened Friends’ Quitter.
• Willie Nelson’s The Willie Nelson Family
• Sting’s The Bridge
• Beach Fossils’ The Other Side Of Life: Piano Ballads
• Yucky Duster’s III
• Ovlov’s Buds
• Holy Other’s Lieve
• Elbow’s Flying Dream 1
• µ-Ziq & Mrs Jynx’s Secret Garden
• Phil Cook’s All These Years
• Smile’s Phantom Island
• Fine Place’s This New Heaven
• Deap Vally’s Marriage
• The Darkness’ Motorheart
• Robert DeLong’s Walk Like Me
• Modern Nature’s Island Of Noise
• Jessica Moss’ Phosphenes
• Dion’s Stomping Ground
• Exodus’ Persona Non Grata
• Cassandra Jenkins’ (An Overview On) An Overview On Phenomenal Nature
• Jonny Greenwood’s The Power Of The Dog score
• The Double Double Whammy 10th-anniversary compilation
• The Bruised soundtrack
• Jessy Lanza’s DJ-Kicks mix
• Kaytranada’s Intimidated EP
• Potty Mouth’s 1% Happier EP
• Eye Flys’ Exigent Circumstance EP
• Shutups’ Six EP

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