Converge – “Cutter” (Axe to Fall)

When I got to college a girl with pink hair gave me a copy of Converge’s Jane Doe. I’ve spent the last decade listening to the Boston legends refine the machinery of their unparalleled sound and simultaneously devouring a body of criticism on the band’s work which in its diverse attempts to describe their sound employs an endlessly evocative range of imagery. Sandpaper. Demonic activity. A live chainsaw cutting into an overheating internal combustion engine that’s simultaneously being torched with a flamethrower.

Regardless of their admiration for lyricist Jacob Bannon’s candid suffering or their disdain for his thirst for vengeance, all admirers of Converge must eventually meet at the vertiginous point where the band’s superb technical prowess flirts with total chaos. This is the line the group has always toed; at what point will the freight train they have stoked to unbelievable speeds jump the rails and experience total ignominious defeat as the music collapses under its own frenetic weight? Although they’ve never been able to match the frayed glory of Jane Doe’s opening couplet (“Concubine” straight into “Fault and Fracture”), the men of Converge have consistently kept their public guessing, always left them with a sense of breathlessness.  They’ve kept things interesting.

On their latest offering (Axe to Fall, Deathwish 2009) something of that suspense has been sacrificed for the sake of control.  They haven’t lost their white hot edge, merely transmuted it into a kind of old school metal tribute. There are a handful of moments on this record that, taken together, may well serve as one of the greatest and most sincere homages to Kill ‘Em All ever recorded.

“Cutter” is the most streamlined and effective of several tracks encapsulating the marriage of the band’s well-established brand of hardcore punk with road-warrior 80’s metal.  Ben Koller’s impeccable, break-neck drumming creates a sturdy set of tracks across which Kurt Ballou steams with the leads he’s been waiting twenty years to deliver. Never one for solos in the past Ballou finally exorcises his inner fourteen-year-old’s Kirk Hammett fetish.  The last thirty seconds are the most punishing of the album and perhaps of the band’s career. No avant-art-emo-core left turn into a clean section; no ludicrous muppet hardcore breakdown. Just a straightforward buzzsaw of four-on-the-floor drums, gang vocals, and amps turned up to 11.

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