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“Sadness Comes Home”
Being one of the most consistently devastating and innovative hardcore bands on the planet doesn’t come easy. In fact, it requires countless hours of hard work, a highly disciplined work ethic, and a level of stamina that even the youngest punks in the game can’t always muster.
For nearly 20 years, Salem, Massachusetts-based metalcore titan Converge has continually pushed its intense sound to new and progressively head-spinning extremes, hammering out 90-second explosions of speed and energy on one track, while delving into a gut-wrenching mixture of emotion and melody the next. Though expectations are best left wide open when approaching a new album from the group, two things remain constant: it’ll never be half-assed, and it most certainly won’t be boring.
All We Love We Leave Behind, Converge’s eighth full-length album and fourth for Epitaph, is every bit the frenetic, neck-snapping metalcore monster that two decades of aggressive precedent could have promised it to be. Yet even when sticking to some of the band’s shortest, most explosive hardcore throw-downs, front-man Jacob Bannon explains, there’s a dedication to craft and perfection that’s not always apparent to the casual listener.
“There are some songs that come together on any album in an hour or two, and some take two years,” Bannon says. “And some of those songs that take a year are only a minute-and-a-half long. But we try to resolve songs, not just stack riffs on top of each other.
“We put a lot into writing and recording,” he continues. “There’s a lot of refinement. There’s a lot of attention paid to detail. And a lot of people may miss that because we sound like a lot of noise to them.”
“It’s a very emotional album. It’s a very intense album. All albums are personal.”
Recorded three years after Axe to Fall, its 2009 predecessor, All We Love We Leave Behind presents a back-to-basics sort of approach for Converge, in a few ways. The latest effort only features a handful of Axe to Fall’s left-field genre diversions like the Tom Waits-style dark blues of “Cruel Bloom,” and it doesn’t feature any guest artists, a rule that the band made when entering the studio this time.
“One of the main things we wanted to do with this record is to have no guests at all,” Bannon says. “With Axe to Fall, we had a lot of friends who played on the record, and a lot of people misinterpreted that. Just because someone from Cave In or Entombed plays on a song doesn’t mean it’s not our song. And it ended up becoming a fairly large record. [The new album] is just the four of us.”
Indeed, Bannon, guitarist Kurt Ballou, drummer Ben Koller, and bassist Nate Newton make quite the racket without any outside help. Though their latest boasts its share of brief, down-tuned hardcore sprints, it nonetheless runs a wide range of material, lack of folk-blues tunes notwithstanding.
All We Love… begins with “Aimless Arrow,” easily the catchiest, most melodic Converge album opener to date, with post-hardcore riffs underscoring an impassioned vocal performance by Bannon. And it closes with “Predatory Glow,” a more slowly moving sludge beast that stands in stark contrast to where the record begins. In the remaining 12 tracks, the group explores the space between these poles, reflecting a mix of influences that the band’s individual members bring to the table.
“I think it’s just part of our collective character in the band at this point,” Bannon says. “We all have different tastes and what we like to see in music. And we like to see the evolution of the four of us as a unit. We like to have certain things reflected in our songs. I never see our band as being one-dimensional. Even in our first records when we were kids, we had some of that, allowed our songs to breathe. And I think we’ve just grown out from there.
“Even in the ’80s and ’90s, every metal band — like Testament — had power ballads. And we’ve never done that. But things like that were so blatantly produced, like a conscious decision to have this marketable song. We’ve never looked at it that way. We just want to make records that are a listenable 45-minute piece. If it’s all go all the time, it’s going to get old.”
For Converge, there’s no specific template to what goes into the band’s music. But in order for a song to make it onto an album, according to Bannon, it has to elicit something beyond an aesthetic appeal.
“We don’t release a song unless we feel it’s good — it’s moving for us, it’s technically interesting to play,” he says. “And as our own critics and listeners, we put out what we want to hear from our band. I think it’s our best playing on this record. Some records you’re happy with them or you want to change, because you’re never content. It’s a very emotional album. It’s a very intense album. All albums are personal.”
For the amount of work and dedication that the four members of Converge put into their music, their collective efforts don’t end there. Ballou runs his own studio in Salem, called GodCity, where he has produced records for a long list of clients ranging from High on Fire to Kvelertak. Newton and Koller each play in other bands such as Doomriders and All Pigs Must Die, respectively. Bannon, meanwhile, owns and operates independent record label Deathwish Inc. and works in graphic design, having created album covers for dozens of bands. It’s a lot to juggle, especially for a band as busy as Converge. For all its ups and downs, however, Bannon doesn’t predict a slowdown anytime soon.
“It’s definitely difficult, but I don’t think I have a choice at this point,” he says. “This is the world I made for myself. I wanted to make something that provided for a variety of people to create a healthy working environment. I had to make a sacrifice, and my biggest sacrifice is time. I have to pay every bill that comes in and exist just like anyone else. That hustle is motivating to me. And in some ways, I enjoy it for sure.
“But I don’t see any other way of doing it.”