There must be a certain amount of anxiety found amongst band members when the time comes to follow up an album that has been decorated as a genre classic. It is a position that the guys in Converge have found themselves in on more than one occasion. 2001 saw the release of their fourth full-length, Jane Doe, an album that will be forever classed as a monumental milestone in extreme metal. Jane Doe — through impenetrable musicality and vocalist Jacob Bannon’s exorcism of pained emotion — depicted the agony of a beating heart torn apart as a result of a failed relationship with its remnants laid bare for all to see. You Fail Me arrived three years later and was gifted the unenviable task of following the almost God-like Jane Doe. As with each release, Converge took a different approach with You Fail Me, not in musical terms — drummer Ben Koller, bassist Nate Newton and guitarist Kurt Ballou more than match the visceral nature of the instrumentation, but more so in a thematic sense: Bannon focusing his indignation outward upon the failings of humanity, more specifically our innate predilection for letting each other down.
Claims could be made that You Fail Me was just as important as Jane Doe, as it confirmed the fact that Converge would refuse to crumble under the suffocating weight of expectation from fans and critics alike. It also paved the way for 2006’s No Heroes — another lethal addition to their discography. But it was 2009’s Axe to Fall that dumbfounded all in the same way Jane Doe had eight years previous. It generated almost sacrilegious whispers of being the best album that Converge had ever delivered, and this lofty praise was confounded by the vitality and kinetic energy of Axe to Fall‘s songs, as well as its clever sequencing. It was by far the most multifaceted recording of their career: Converge adding different moods and textures to their palette, which up until then dripped in black, grey, and blood red. Axe to Fall‘s collision of esteemed contributors also enhanced its diversity: members of Neurosis, Cave-In, Genghis Tron — amongst others — were allowed to add their own personal touches to the tracks they featured on, and as a consequence of such collaborative efforts, Axe to Fall successfully pushed the sonic boundaries that Converge had worked within for 15 years.
Because of such critical acclaim Converge’s latest, All We Love We Leave Behind, arrives burdened by the same weight of expectation that surrounded You Fail Me. However, all possible fears and anxieties are laid cold by the wayside the minute “Aimless Arrow” kicks into life: Kurt Ballou’s battering guitar licks and Bannon’s fraught howl making it blatantly clear that Converge intend to bulldoze ahead, regardless of whatever pressure may be pressed upon them. As an album opener it is less grandstanding than Axe to Fall‘s “Dark Horse”, but it is indicative of Converge’s intense direction for All We Love We Leave Behind as a whole: each song focused on moving in a direct and defiant manner. And it is this unassuming change in tactics, paired with the fact that Converge has consciously kept the writing of this record in-house — free from outside collaborators/guests — that makes All We Love We Leave Behind a raging beast of its own.
Recorded at Ballou’s Godcity Studio, All We Love We Leave Behind‘s production traps the animalistic live sound of Converge onto record — something that Ballou has made his trademark. The songs that pursue “Aimless Arrow” move through different styles/tempos yet flow together naturally and sound equally ferocious; whether it be the Entombed-esque “Trespasses” — a track that tears itself apart through its grinding crescendo; the rapid hardcore-punk raids of “Tender Abuse” and “Sparrow’s Fall” — both of which allow Koller to let loose the military fire of his rhythms; or the stalking, premeditated pace of “Coral Blue”, with Bannon murderously whispering his vocals in a style reminiscent of Today Is the Day mastermind Steve Austin. Bannon also deploys this vocal technique to great effect on “Empty on the Inside” and “A Glacial Pace”, and his varied performance — moving from seething to purging — demonstrates his continuous desire to evolve. Bannon has also become less reclusive and more forthcoming with his enunciation, as well in his lyrics, and has done so without losing any of his signature bite and poetic grace: his lyrics continuing to base themselves around the harsh truths of reality — just look to the album title for a statement that is desperately hard to swallow.
But Bannon’s stellar contributions do not eclipse the music on All We Love We Leave Behind, instead his vocals work hand in hand with the instrumentation. On the early heavy-hitter “Sadness Comes Home” Converge flex their supreme musicianship by incorporating granite-like grooves, free-wheeling d-beat sections and caustic blasts into the one song, and it’s this dynamism that would tend to impress more than their familiar hardcore discharges. Familiarity itself can make for a dangerous bedfellow, but even though the ideas contained in “Veils and Veins” and “Shame in the Way” have been exercised by Converge in the past, their inclusion here should not be undervalued — they provide the essential link to create this album’s continuous flow: “Veils and Veins” segueing between the gutter-scraping punk of “Vicious Muse” and the previously mentioned “Coral Blue”, while “Shame in the Way” ties “Coral Blue” to the tension filled instrumental “Precipice”, which sets the scene for the disorientating title track — an album high point that takes the dominating bass lines and tribal drum bombardment of Through Silver in Blood-era Neurosis and wraps them around Ballou’s skin-flaying riffs, which together increase in speed and transform into a musical cyclone with Bannon trapped within its eye — screaming wildly — before the song violently careens out of control. It is the sound of this group of four at their most awe-inspiring and it takes the chugging chokehold of the finale,”Predatory Glow”, to ground such dizzying heights.
In its totality, this release manages to defy comparison to past albums by keeping this band’s relentless passion for their art burning bright for all to see right up until the very end. All We Love We Leave Behind is proof positive that the incandescent flame of Converge’s fury is fully under their direct control, and because of this ability to harness their elemental power, the Converge of 2012 sound just as fearless and peerless as ever.