You Fail Me
early every moment of Converge’s decade-and-a-half existence has been lived in margins and borderlines—the boundary between metal and hardcore, the space between corrosive despair and hope, that fissure between improbable exertion and collapse. Relying on equal doses aggression and intelligence, they’ve slipped the nooses of genre restrictions and miraculously evaded the black-hole implosion that seems to be the inevitable destiny of other similarly high-energy, high-entropy bodies. Years of relentless touring and obsessive recording have done little to dull their vigor or obscure the unflinching clarity of their vision—if anything, they’ve heightened the band’s collective reflexes. Like other organisms surviving hostile habitats, Converge has emerged an impeccably pared-down case study in calculated cruelty, resourcefulness and cunning tempered by desperation.
More than any record in their expansive catalog, You Fail Me stands as testament to the brutal necessities Converge has created to ensure its survival. Recording as a quartet after the departure of their long-time second guitarist, their songs no longer hinge on the electric animation of twin-guitar muscles with surges of static and furious metal riffing. Guitarist/producer Kurt Ballou’s six-string wrangling now forsakes most of the usual feverishly skewered metal gestures in favor of an atmospheric post-hardcore style that snaps, often mid-phrase, between hurtling riffs and echoed soundscaping. The rhythm section of drummer Ben Koller and bassist Nate Newton similarly thrive in this stripped-down configuration, sounding at once leaner and more vital beneath the ear-shredding treble assaults. Jake Bannon’s terrifying vocal cords—the site of embodied struggle between paralyzing neuroses and indefatigable desire—still shriek with their trademark inhuman persistence, but even they sound simultaneously more refined and more distressed in these starker sonic confines.
Appropriately, the album begins with a haunted minute of hollow feedback echo and mournful desert strains from Ballou’s guitar before lurching into the fever-dream devastation of “Last Light”. Drums stutter and tumble through the jet streams trailing acrobatic riffs, while Bannon wails work as seemingly impossible demands for courage amidst the chaos, his voice fraying fantastically in his final dedication to “the hearts still beating”. “Black Clouds” erupts in the final half-second of amp buzz reprieve, its blackened and churning roiling spreading like acrid smoke from the preceding track’s combustion. Together, these opening tracks form the archetypical backbone from which the album’s later tracks diverge like broken ribs, some more splintered than others. Album standout “Drop Out” tracks a similar course as it shudders and twitches through breakneck time changes with adrenal intensity, but its final dispersion into frozen fireworks and arterial spray is marked with a yet-unseen grafting of the nightmarish and beautiful. “Heartless”, “Eagles Become Vultures” and “Hope Street” condense schizophrenic structures into two-minute jolts of nerve-fraying intensity, while the cavernous expanse of the title track draws its cathartic grace from the prying apart of those same forms.
A handful of notable experiments further attest to Converge’s unflagging adaptability. As if composed from decayed echoes of My Bloody Valentine and Labradford, “In Her Shadow” creeps with hymnal severity from skeletal acoustic strums to a mass of spaghetti-western guitar and funereal moans blurred by deliberately gritty recording. Similarly, “In Her Blood” bears the mark of Ballou’s immediate, yet spacious production as it recasts the guitar as pure noise generator. Detuned and downtuned, its rusty strings sweep like sirens and groan like faultlines as its sounds merge grains seamlessly with some of Bannon’s more racked and strangulated torrents of invective to date. Stranger yet is the album’s ultimate track, “Hanging Moon”, which begins in a whirlwind of drums before heaving through a furious four-on-the-floor chug of fuzzed-out acoustic guitar and murderously anxious megaphone cries, all surrounded by whirring fragments of broken chimes and snippets of tribal percussion. Surprisingly, it’s among the most harrowing tracks in a collection devoted to the rekindling of desire in the face of interminable misery—it feels cobbled-together with parts dragged from the rubble, animated by nervous impulse and the refusal of defeat.
You Fail Me finds Converge at their most clear-eyed and uncompromising, ever in a state of unending escape. Steel-willed and nimbler than ever, they continue to maneuver the narrow space between stylistic stasis and self-destructive experimentalism with such dazzling assurance that they inspire the very hope to which they often allude. Located squarely at the nexus of aspiration and terror, the cruel logic that guides Converge is neither simple nor comforting, but it is gorgeous in its efficacy. As always, brutal and built for survival.
Reviewed by: Joe Panzner
Reviewed on: 2004-10-22