Converge, Axe to Fall (Epitaph)
With Axe to Fall, Boston's Converge finally step out from the shadow of their landmark 2001 album Jane Doe. The band's last two records have felt like unavoidable responses to that early masterpiece of roiling, turbulent therapy hardcore: You Fail Me, from 2004, slowed down and retreated from its predecessor's epic, abstract expansiveness for short, muscular bursts of more conventional (but still seething) hardcore fury; No Heroes, from 2006, was just too much like Jane Doe in form and content for comfort, even if "Grim Heart/Black Rose" did surpass its counterpart, the title track from Jane Doe.
There's no radical reinvention on Axe to Fall, unless you count the last two tracks, the Tom Waits/Nick Cave-style dirge "Cruel Bloom," with a guest vocal by Steve Von Till of Neurosis, and the apocalyptic closing ballad "Wretched World." (Those experiments aren't entirely successful, and their placement at the end suggests Converge knew it—some listeners may just crop the songs off their iPods.) There are new embellishments, in particular the increased frequency and energy of slashing, high-pitched metal guitar leads from Kurt Ballou. The digressions into opposite directions—barbed-wire guitar heroics and folk-tinged funeral marches—pace the otherwise furious intensity of "Effigy," "Losing Battle," and "Dead Beat" so that Axe to Fall succeeds as both a summing up and as a signpost of new directions—a culmination of Converge's almost-20-year career so far with a couple of teasers about where they might go next. But mostly it's just a fresh, new Converge album, unburdened by the associations that limited You Fail Me and No Heroes and open to breathtaking new possibilities.