Music

Converge: No Heroes

Yet another reminder of just how scarily talented this band is.


Converge

No Heroes

Label: Epitaph
US Release Date: 2006-10-24
UK Release Date: 2006-10-23
Amazon
iTunes

"How many metal heads does it take to change a light bulb? Ten; one to change it, and nine to bitch about how much better the old one was."

It's a tired joke, but it couldn't be more apt when describing the predicament faced by any metal or hardcore band that is saddled with the burden of following up an earth-shattering, genre-defining album. Massachusetts's own Converge knows the feeling, having caught lightning in a bottle on its seminal 2001 album Jane Doe, an exhilarating exercise in metallic hardcore that was greeted with euphoria among hardcore and metal fans alike when it first hit stores, and continues to rise in stature as the years go by, to the point now where it is (justifiably) regarded as one of the most important extreme albums so far this decade. One would think that the question of where to go next would be an immense one, but considering the bold direction Converge took on the astonishing 2004 album You Fail Me, there's no pressure being felt by these fellas whatsoever.

In fact, if Jane Doe was a hundred mile an hour fastball aimed squarely at the jaw of the listener, You Fail Me was a devastating change-up, an Eephus pitch that threw everyone for a loop. Similar to Slayer following Reign in Blood with South of Heaven, Converge made an abrupt shift from intricate, hyperkinetic mathcore to simpler, controlled aggression, the down-shifted tempos allowing songs to breathe more, vocalist Jacob Bannon increasing the use of cleanly sung vocals, and ace guitarist Kurt Ballou even picking up an acoustic guitar for one track. That the band made it all seem so effortless was even more admirable, and two years later, that smooth transition continues on an album that tops its predecessor and comes awfully close to equaling the mighty Jane Doe.

By integrating introspective musical themes with the band's renowned aggression much more cohesively than on You Fail Me, No Heroes finds a solid middle ground between the contrasting styles of the last two records. In fact, the new album is a distinct tale of two sides. The band wastes no time whatsoever in unleashing six scorching songs over the first 11 minutes, highlighted by the lurching grind of "Heartache" and the rampaging double-time hardcore of "Hellbound", followed by the ferocious title track, during which Bannon delivers a blunt political diatribe that would be incomprehensible were it not for a lyric sheet, bellowing, "Our world of widows needs to be saved / It's now or never / Victim or victory."

It's during the key mid-album track "Plagues", though, that the worm starts to turn, the record taking a sharp turn toward even darker themes, as Ballou's guitar work starts to dominate. Arguably the most expressive guitarist in metal/hardcore today, his riffs in "Plagues" have a screeching, industrial quality, yet, typical of his work, never abandons the primary melody that lurks underneath all the dissonance. Couple Ballou's prowess with the fact that nobody can make slow, plodding tempos sound as tense, as thrilling as Converge can, and you've got the makings of a sensational second half of the album.

"Orphaned" slyly incorporates clean, melodic guitar sequences over the band's trademark hardcore syncopation, while Ballou and Bannon both channel the great Big Black on the two minute skronkfest "Lonewolves", as bassist Nate Newton and drummer Ben Koller lay down an ungodly groove. "Trophy Scars", on the other hand, is one of the catchiest songs the band has ever recorded and yet doesn't compromise the band's underground aesthetic whatsoever, the shouted refrain ("I want to live! / Without the guilt we give!") destined to go over huge in concert. Converge has always been especially great when it comes to lengthy tracks, and No Heroes peaks with the stunning nine and a half minute epic "Grim Heart / Black Rose". Infused with massive doom riffs and basslines, and punctuated by Koller's punishing drumming, the song features some superb emotional vocals by Jonah Jenkins (formerly of the great underground band Only Living Witness), Bannon's self loathing reaching a new low as Jenkins croons such lines as, "When I see me in your eyes / I just want to go blind." By the time Bannon enter the fray with his screams two thirds of the way through, the tension becomes even more palpable, as the song careens to a monstrous, galloping conclusion.

Produced, engineered, and mixed entirely by Ballou, the first time he's ever done so for Converge, No Heroes is a marked change from the claustrophobic You Fail Me, the abrasion rivaling the work of Steve Albini, but the guitar tones just warm and spacious enough to draw listeners in more. Yet another astonishing album by a band seemingly incapable of recording a dud, it's the finest metal/hardcore crossover album of 2006, one that refuses to be lumped in any category, save for one, that it's nothing more than classic Converge. Which is all we ever ask of the guys.

8

Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less
9
TV

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less
9

If space is time—and space is literally time in the comics form—the world of the novel is a temporal cage. Manuele Fior pushes at the formal qualities of that cage to tell his story.

Manuele Fior's 5,000 Km Per Second was originally published in 2009 and, after winning the Angouléme and Lucca comics festivals awards in 2010 and 2011, was translated and published in English for the first time in 2016. As suggested by its title, the graphic novel explores the effects of distance across continents and decades. Its love triangle begins when the teenaged Piero and his best friend Nicola ogle Lucia as she moves into an apartment across the street and concludes 20 estranged years later on that same street. The intervening years include multiple heartbreaks and the one second phone delay Lucia in Norway and Piero in Egypt experience as they speak while 5,000 kilometers apart.

Keep reading... Show less
7

Featuring a shining collaboration with Terry Riley, the Del Sol String Quartet have produced an excellent new music recording during their 25 years as an ensemble.

Dark Queen Mantra, both the composition and the album itself, represent a collaboration between the Del Sol String Quartet and legendary composer Terry Riley. Now in their 25th year, Del Sol have consistently championed modern music through their extensive recordings (11 to date), community and educational outreach efforts, and performances stretching from concert halls and the Library of Congress to San Francisco dance clubs. Riley, a defining figure of minimalist music, has continually infused his compositions with elements of jazz and traditional Indian elements such as raga melodies and rhythms. Featuring two contributions from Riley, as well as one from former Riley collaborator Stefano Scodanibbio, Dark Queen Mantra continues Del Sol's objective of exploring new avenues for the string quartet format.

Keep reading... Show less
9
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image