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Review: Converge – All We Love We Leave Behind

All We Love We Leave Behind
Epitaph/Deathwish Inc.

With All We Love We Leave Behind, Converge’s eighth full-length studio album, one thing is clear: Converge is hard to accurately emulate and nearly impossible to duplicate. It would be fair to assume when a band’s career spans more than two decades sounds and records are bound to become repetitive. For Converge time has only birthed greater maturity. The Boston band’s roots are deeply seeded in hardcore, punk, and even metal, genres where bands break up rather than evolve, but with each album the group has redefined themselves and their sound. They shun outside influences, instead seeking to create music that they would like to hear themselves. This drive is apparent in All We Love We Leave Behind, an album that pushes Converge further into new takes on familiar genres and emotions.

In a recent interview vocalist Jacob Bannon mentioned lyrical themes of loss, regret, and looking to the past, present, and future as life moves on permeate much of the album. The stage for these ideas and feelings is promptly set up with the opening track “Aimless Arrow” with Bannon’s vocal delivery. The music itself is abrasive and hard-charging, but the way that the vocals come in almost in a spoken manner brings a palpable pain to them that evokes the standard for what’s to come. As the album delves further, the band’s sound expands even further highlighting each members’ skill level as musician, without sacrificing aggression.

In “Sadness Comes Home”, guitarist Kurt Ballou opens up with a riff that reminds me of “Plagues” from No Heroes. The two openings and riffs do not sound alike whatsoever, yes, but each are uniquely Ballou. Ballou is one of the most interesting guitarists in aggressive music, creating his own personal style while perfectly fitting within the Converge sound. I’d even dare call it “guitar acrobatics.”

“Empty of the Inside”, “Sparrow’s Fall”, and especially “Glacial Pace” (the stop-and-go build-ups are jarring) showcase how each member brings in their own styles of playing. While on first listen Bannon’s legion of vocal styles and Ballou’s riff gymnastics may seem like the stars of Converge, the importance of drummer Ben Koller and bass player Nate Newton becomes readily apparent the further you listen. Many bands must choose between grinding or grooving. Koller and Newton’s rhythm section has no such issues. Hidden among the whirring speed and blast beats are tightly constructed moments of thunderous groove. They provide each song, regardless of tempo, a skeletal foundation that lets the listener know this chaos has a plane. No track better showcases their critical importance like the aforementioned “Glacial Pace.” This unit has coalesced their own strengths together to become a beast that’s ways familiar yet never stagnant. Other long-running genre bands should listen closely. Either keep growing, or consider becoming a greatest hits act. A standard is being set here.

“Coral Blue” stands out among the track listing, harkening back to “Cruel Bloom” and “Wretched World”, off 2009s Axe To Fall. The restrained vocals build up an eerie sense of longing when coupled with a lonesome guitar about halfway through the song. It creates a space in the sound that brings solace and respite, only to push you further into the despair as the song builds back up.

Throughout All We Love We Leave Behind it’s obvious that a lot of effort and care was given to a balanced mix and song sequencing. All of the songs seem to be seamlessly bled into the next without any sudden breaks. This gives the record a continuous flow, a rarity nowadays, especially in this genre and style of music. This fluidity is perfectly demonstrated in how the instrumental interlude of “Precipice” complements and merges into the title track. The album’s namesake breaks the preconceived boundaries of what a hardcore, punk, and metal song can be. Here again, Bannon sounds more as if he’s speaking and pleading instead of his usual demonic vocal delivery. The pain and anguish in his voice from earlier in the album returns, not only accentuating the lyrical content, but also making the song heavier. It simply sounds like things are not okay.

The inclusion of re-recorded versions of “No Light Escapes”, “On My Shield”, and “Runaway”—which were all originally released on 7” EPs—surprisingly fit in with the rest of the album. It was a wise move to have them spread out with the rest of the tracks, as opposed to lumping them at the end as most deluxe editions of releases tend to do. All three songs, re-recorded to fit the overall sound of the album, feel like pieces of the album’s puzzle.

All We Love We Leave Behind, like its predecessors, feels as the culmination of Converge‘s sound. We’re not sure where they go from here. The album takes the best hardcore elements of Petitioning the Empty Sky and When Forever Comes Crashing, the darkness and despair of Jane Doe and You Fail Me, and the accessibility of Axe to Fall, mixes them all to create another pinnacle for the band. Every era is represented here. Any Converge fans that might have been divided between pre- and post-Jane Doe eras will be brought back together by All We Love We Leave Behind. This is the album that represents all that Converge has been and where they have been going. 20 years can be a lifetime. This band is living it to the fullest.

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