One of the drawbacks of being a venerated institution in extreme music is that you can never just quite write a damn album and leave it at that, y’know? Find some riffs hanging around, kick ‘em back and forth with some other dudes, call it a day. What I mean is, a band like Converge (or Enslaved, or Neurosis, to take other recent examples) is so well-established and almost universally adored that any new album is going to be parsed to death, ushered breathlessly through the gilded hall of the band’s canon to eyeball its relative position, and generally fawned over and fondled with too many words and not enough shutting up to listen.
For whatever it’s worth, then, to these ears, All We Love We Leave Behind is the first Converge album since Jane Doe that feels like a collection of songs instead of a statement, and that fact alone makes it a hell of a statement. The album takes the hard-won expansions and contractions of the band’s sound over the past decade and grinds them down to a fine point.
Converge’s songwriting has rarely sounded so confident, and the album’s excellent sequencing pays the songs ample compliment. Album opener “Aimless Arrow” woozes ineluctably forward, wrapping up with a restatement of the opening theme and a chorus-coda that keeps seeming like it intends to end, but then adds another few pummeling measures, and again, and again. Ben Koller’s d-beats throughout the album are flecked with malice, as on the barreling “Trespasses,” which even cops a little bit of the shit-eating fun of Doomriders.
Jacob Bannon’s vocals, which have often been a sticking point for some listeners, are a great and somewhat surprisingly diverse asset here. Not only has Bannon’s howl lost some of its shrillness, but he also brings in a half-tuneful shout and some goth-curious clean singing. In fact, that last vocal touch gives the moody midsection of “Empty on the Inside” and much of “A Glacial Pace” a real affinity with Tombs’ masterful Path of Totality. More importantly, though, Bannon’s vocals are weary, lived in. A young man screams because he yearns and seethes and has to set loose a cry; an older man screams not just because he still can, but because the fact that he doesn’t have to and chooses to anyway is a testimony beyond reproach.
The most crucial fact is that, for the vast majority of All We Love We Leave Behind, Converge sounds simply like a band that wants to rip you to shit. “Tender Abuse” starts off with the ferocity of a noise rock-corrupted grindcore before riding a breakdown into a crushing swing riff; this train of thought is carried even further in “Sadness Comes Home,” with Kurt Ballou’s chorus guitar bends and nervy verse noodling. The band even indulges in some post-punk-derived twitchiness here and there, as when Ballou’s guitar picks up whiffs of that classic spindly tone, or the thick, murky funk that Nate Newton’s bass whips up in the intro to “Veins and Veils.” The band’s default setting, however, is to rage through gritted teeth; that hunger is infectious.
The late-album anchor “Coral Blue” has a quiet section where Ballou explores the main riff acoustically before yielding the floor to a chugging, gang-chanted, tension-ratcheting buildup that gathers, breaks, then fades. It feels at first like a tease, or a misstep, but it might just be the surest proof yet that Converge doesn’t have to rely on easy catharsis. Even though that chorus feels to this listener like borderline mawkish triumphalism, it’s hard to fault the band its choices. They’ve earned the long view.