Just read Pitchfork’s Review for Converge’s new album “Axe To Fall” and let me say it’s dead on. So I’m not going to attempt to write one. I haven’t received my vinyl in the mail yet but did get a chance to stream the album from myspace a few million times before they took the stream down. You can read the review below. I also want to note that this is some of the best writing I have read in a while. While Converge’s new album is extremely passionate and well written so is Lee’s review.
Converge are this generation’s Black Flag. This generation might not remember Black Flag, so here’s a refresher. In the early 1980s, Black Flag and peers like Bad Brains and Minor Threat took punk beyond “three chords and the truth.” The result was hardcore punk. It was deliberately ugly and harsh; Clash-fetishizing critics have mostly ignored it. Black Flag epitomized DIY– they booked their own shows, handed out their own flyers, rehearsed with military discipline, and put out records on guitarist Greg Ginn’s label, SST. Despite shifting lineups, their mission never wavered: to destroy.
Destruction isn’t Converge’s agenda. They differ from Black Flag in that aspect: They build things up, not tear them down. But they can do so because of Black Flag’s groundwork. Black Flag made it okay to fight cops, to fight fans, and to do what punk always promised but rarely did: be oneself. The band was both explosive and implosive. It was destined to end.
Converge have learned from Black Flag’s mistakes. They work as a team and have taken DIY to new levels. Singer Jacob Bannon runs the Deathwish, Inc. label and does artwork for Converge and other bands. Guitarist Kurt Ballou runs a recording studio and has become this generation’s Steve Albini. Bassist Nate Newton and drummer Ben Koller have made waves with other bands like Doomriders and Cave In. Together, they whip up a catharsis matched by few. They play hard and wear their hearts on their sleeves. As a result, kids in droves wear Converge on their sleeves. (The band’s Twitter handle is “convergecult.”) No other current punk band’s imagery is as iconic. The face on the cover of 2001’s Jane Doe, the hand on the cover of 2004’s You Fail Me– they are the Black Flag bars of today.
The band wasn’t always so potent. It took a few albums to work through a wiry hybrid of mathcore and metal. Jane Doe was Converge’s watershed, honing their sound to a lean, abrasive essence. Over You Fail Me and 2006’s No Heroes, it expanded to include slower, abstract sludge. Black Flag went through a similar transformation. Their landmark album My War was equal parts lightning and Black Sabbath. Axe to Fall is Converge’s My War.
The album is, to quote The Exorcist and Pantera, a vulgar display of power. Bannon’s howl is exfoliating. His lyrics aren’t hard to parse: “I need to learn to love me”; “No longer feel anyone/ No longer fear anything.” Basic stuff, but it reaches deep and pulls no punches. Ballou’s guitar dials up the crackle of Metallica’s Kill ‘Em All. It gallops, shoots electric arcs, dives down to subterranean depths. Ballou mines the upper register more than ever before, turning leads into leitmotifs. The frenzied pull-offs in “Dark Horse” are pure Kirk Hammett; the supercharged chug of “Reap What You Sow” recalls the fire of early Megadeth. Ballou isn’t really playing metal– his band is too short-haired and quirky for that– but he’s out-metalling 99% of metal bands today. Newton’s bass heaves dirt divots; Koller’s kit is so murderous, it’s practically the sound of ethnic cleansing. The title track rotates through thrash beats, blastbeats, and d-beats like a race car driver shifting gears. It’s fast, greasy, and loud as a motherfucker.
Axe to Fall isn’t all axes, though. It’s also anvils and stone pillows and beds of fallen leaves. The record is perfectly sequenced. It starts with three seamless barnburners, then settles into smooth toggling between slow and fast. The slow numbers likely won’t get live airing– kids prefer speed– but they’re amazing constructions of texture and friction. Near the end, piano and glockenspiel make like Tom Waits and Godspeed You! Black Emperor. They’re elegiac and haunting, an inversion of the napalm death that preceded them. A huge array of guests help out, representing acts like Disfear, 108, Genghis Tron, and Neurosis. They are too many to list, but the bottom line is, they work. Whether they’re yelling, singing, or laying down leads, they fit their songs. And that in itself is fitting.
— Cosmo Lee, October 29, 2009