Sound: Converge were always a unique sounding band. From screams of literal gut wrenching pain to guitar that attacks you right in the center of your brain. From bass that is as growl-like as a ravenous bear, to drums that could sink a battleship. Converge have always been either completely in your face, or droney and emotionally scarred from a distance. What happens when a band with such a well known formula try to mix things up a bit? That is the result of Axe To Fall.
What Axe To Fall gives us is our classic Converge sound, and at the same time a couple of differences.
The first difference is the huge amount of guest musicians on this album, ranking in at over ten. Musicians from John Pettibone of Himsa fame, to Mookie Singerman of Genghis Tron, to even all three members of Cave In, and many more. The duties of the guest musicians range from the usual duties of a guest musician: Backing vocals, backing guitar, their own solo, and whatnot. Not on Axe To Fall. Along with these, you will find lead guitar, drums, and even two songs where Converge vocalist Jacob Bannon is completely void of to allow guests to sing. This collection of Converge and friends adds a lot of contrast and depth to Axe, as it has so many characteristics brought forward (such as the classic Cave In guitar tone on Effigy, and a folky, droney Neurosis ballad in Cruel Bloom). The guest musicians, although very daunting on paper, were a great selection overall and a nice surprise for those who follow the hardcore and metalcore community.
The second significant change in sound is the addition of some progressive elements, which stand out fairly well. Moments such as the odd time signatures in Dead Beat, and the chilling ambience-turning-ghastly in Wretched World are a nice touch to the album. You feel that the band has matured as musicians. // 9
Lyrics: As always, Jacob Bannon, while for most is incomprehensible, crafts beautiful imagery in his lyrics. Two things you can count on Converge for lyrically are songs about overcoming tragedy and songs about standing up for yourself.
I lied. Three things you can count on. The last is the fact that you probably need to follow the song with a lyric sheet to get 100% of the words down and when they are said. As I am used to this already, people who want to check out this band for the first time should take note that Jacob Bannon is both very manic, and very hard to understand, but there is a reason to this. With Converge, music is one thing and lyrics are another. I've come to understand that the vocals are where they should be at, because otherwise the songs may not give off the same emotional-relief that they do.
With that being said, the lyrics are wonderful and poetic as always. The guest vocalists are never out of place and they blend in with the song and the mood of the music perfectly. If you are a classic Converge fan, no need to worry, Bannon isn't trying anything different or out of place. // 9
Overall Impression: In terms of Converge albums, this is definitely one of their bests. Is it as satisfying and as big of an impression-leaver as Jane Doe? No. Is it close to it? Very. It is most certainly not a let down of an album, and it may very well be one of the best heavy metal albums of 2009, if not the best.
As for drawbacks, nothing is really disappointing. However, the last two songs, being very slow paced and drone-like can leave the listener in a bit of a puzzle. You can either listen to the album as a whole, or you may feel one of two things:
1)listening to the first eleven songs and starting back at the first
2)listening to tracks 12 and 13 over and over again.
None of these are bad, although somedays you may just not be in the mood for the last eleven minutes of Axe To Fall. I think the band knew this, hence they kept the intensity of the other tracks but made some tracks here and there more elongated and slower paces, such as Worms Will Feed/Rats Will Feast, and Damages, which nicely balances out the album.
I highly recommend fans of this band and/or album to purchase a physical copy. As usual, Converge prove that an album can be made so much more beautifully and emotionally-connecting through their use of Bannon's artwork. Referring back to Jane Doe, every song has its own painting again. Hearing the song and picturing Bannon's vision of each song really put you in the mood that he wants you to feel. Highly recommend a physical purchase, again.
If this album were lost or stolen, I would definitely buy one again. // 10