As I began writing this review of Converge's typically phenomenal new LP (their eighth in a very consistent 20-plus-year career), I suddenly realized that I was starting it off with the exact same quote I used when discussing 2009's Axe To Fall on this site (you can read that here). Aside from being a little embarrassing and funny, it made me wonder what it was about the Boston group's abilities that made age so much more than a number.
For sure, hardcore has always been more a young person's game. There's a certain kinship one feels in their teens with screaming and playing as fast as possible. It's as natural as seeing nothing wrong with a bag of Doritos as supper. But as you gets older, even if you still feel the desire to continue raking your vocal chords over the hot coals of angst and to fly through measures of music like a cheetah, you've gotta get serious. You need to treat your throat right and learn to scream properly night after night. You need to be in shape, or at least athletic enough to pound through 168 bpm for one hour without passing out. But even more than the physical toll, let's just call a spade a spade: you've gotta find a way to own with dignity what can essentially amount to carrying on like a petulant kid as your career.
Because hardcore doesn't really check itself or take a breath. That's why it works—it's self-righteous, brash, and unyielding. To match the fresh, inspired, but naive 20-year-olds of the genre with nothing to lose, you need to get savvy and build variety, reflection, and poignancy into your music. So that it's not only feasible to step up on yet another stage twenty years later and freak the hell out; it's easy because you know you've done something with those decades to make your music the best of its kind.
That's exactly what Converge do, and All We Love We Leave Behind is just further proof of it. In terms of breathtaking displays of pure speed and dexterity, it's all there—the opening salvo flies by and songs like "Sparrow's Fall" show the incredible force they can cram into a minute and a half. And thanks to both their physical abilities and the engineering cunning of guitarist Kurt Ballou (who as the band's resident producer has rightly made a name for himself as one of the best brains behind a soundboard in hardcore and metal), there are few bands who punch harder on record.
But above all, Converge write music with an intelligence and lyrical vulnerability that means their songs retain immense value even after the initial concussion wears off. Bannon may yell his face off, but when he shifts his voice down into his more natural register (more a call than a scream), he remains one of hardcore's most compelling voices. In this way, he really delivers on hardcore's initial promise—as much as this music is about scaring the hell out of people, it's also about camaraderie.
There will certainly come a day when these four guys can't play like this anymore. But even when it comes, be sure they could still make some phenomenal music. Through tracks like this record's "Coral Blue" (as well as past slow burners "Black Heart Grim Rose," "Cruel Bloom" or "In Her Shadow"), Converge already take the time to shine a way forward for themselves. But when you're this capable of blowing away bands half your age, why would anyone be in a hurry to throw in the towel? Still a nearly unmatched band in their field...or any other, really.