After setting the bar Extreme Hardcore with their first couple of albums (“Halo In A Haystack” / “Caring And Killing”, “Petitioning The Empty Sky”) and paving the way for more mathematically driven bands like BOTCH and THE DILLINGER ESCAPE PLAN (“When Forever Comes Crashing”), CONVERGE quickly outgrew the Hardcore genre. Their output since then – starting with 2001’s phenomenal “Jane Doe” (quite possibly my all-time favourite album of all time) – pushed into territories far more expansive and extreme; forging a sound that was uniquely theirs, and which is responsible for some of the best, most challenging music of the last ten years (/forever). Not the least of these efforts was the band’s last outing, 2009’s brilliant “Axe To Fall”, which managed to outshine every other amazing album released that year – of which there were lots – (in my mind anyway), as well as eclipsing the marvelous “No Heroes”, which came before it. So it is with some reservation and disillusion that I offer the following evaluation of the band’s newest venture, the bleakly and lengthily titled “All We Love We Leave Behind”. I’ve read many reviews piling on the praise that is to be expected of a CONVERGE album, and some even pointing to it as being the band’s crowning achievement but I’m just not seeing it.
Firstly, it must be said, that I do not care at all for first track / single “Aimless Arrow”. It’s easily the weakest CONVERGE track heard in a long time, and sounds to these ears like a leftover from “You Fail Me” – my least enjoyed of all CONVERGE albums. The song provides limp opening compared to the band’s many signature tracks; such as the explosive “Dark Horse”, “Concubine”, or the isolating and elative one-two of “First Light / Last Light”. It does a decent job of setting up the tone of the record and for the oncoming “Tresspass”, a Crusty, Hardcore number, in the vein of TRAP THEM and (Ben Koller’s other band) ALL PIGS MUST DIE. This attitude is kept up by the full on Grind of “Tender Abuse” and throughout the middle of the album – barely a third of the songs breach the three/four minute mark – which suggests “AWLWLB” may just be the band’s most savage offering since “Jane Doe”, except with a much more stripped back feeling about it, with a lot of the older, Hardcore influence creeping back into the band’s sound.
A lot of the songs, however, lack the impact and memorability of albums past. The middle of the album (tracks 4-9) touches on the tone of the last few albums, but comes off as under-formed. Often it feels like the band are repeating themselves; rehashing the same idea across multiple tracks. “Sadness Comes Home” for instance, doesn’t add anything to the experience that “Tresspass” didn’t already achieve. Ben Koller’s drumming is up to its usual stellar form during the slower sections, but the faster, more aggressive sections feel as though they’ve had the drumming cut-and-pasted from the last. The longer tracks usually benefit from their length, being more complete compositions, but still fall short of past efforts. Songs like “Glacial Pace” don’t hold up to something like “Grim Heart / Black Rose” or anything from the latter half of “Axe To Fall”. “Coral Blue” does a better job of replicating that album’s mellow, progressive tone but, for all its wonderful build-up, it’s a song that doesn’t really go anywhere – failing to capture the magic a second time ‘round.
The last third of the record, from “Coral Blue” onward, proves the most interesting and rewarding, and it’s a shame that it comes so late and after so much half-hearted interest. The thundering and distinctive “Shame In The Way” is one song that gets the combination right, and leading out of this into the “Precipice” interlude and onto the desolate and confronting title-track shows the band at their usual provocative, best. It may be unfair to expect AWLWLB to match up to the band’s last couple of records, but I also feel it doesn’t hold up to a lot of what’s out there right now either. The Crustier moments that a lot of the album focuses on pale in comparison to those on offer from bands like TRAP THEM and ALL PIGS MUST DIE. The more straightforward Hardcore sections, or those with a progressive flair, are serviceable but not particularly exciting.
This album shows the band building on the sound of “Axe To Fall” but feels more like a direct sequel to “You Fail Me”. Yet, whereas that record (and all CONVERGE’s others) flowed together into an essential whole, “All We Love We Leave Behind” feels disconnected and varying in quality. It certainly isn’t a bad album, and this is only an initial impression, but there’s something lacking this time around. “AWLWLB” is to “Axe To Fall” as “You Fail Me” was to “Jane Doe”; a follow-up that is at once more ambitious and more regressive -- although I think it too lacks the staying power of that album – and serves as the only other step backward in CONVERGES’s (near) flawless history.
(Online October 9, 2012)