If LCD Soundsystem's 45:33 is good Nike-sponsored running music, No Heroes is what boot-wearing non-joggers use at a punk-slapped punching bag to reach fighting weight. It's pretty amazing to think Converge has been around almost as long as some of you have been alive, especially considering this sixth full-length is packed with some of the most ferocious moments in the Boston quartet's 15-plus year history.
These 14 right hooks are buff motherfuckers, rendered in various shades of blacks and blues and reds, but it's the opening tandem that really cooks. Shoving feedback and a heavy instrumental build out of the way, neck-tat sporting vocalist Jacob Bannon skewers a two-minute sermon on the opening track, "Heartache": "We are all falling down/ We are all falling/ Every word that you pray/ Makes another slave/ Every idol that you build/ Brings another plague." When the mathy mid-tempo returns, the song appropriately rams bass-first into "Hellhound", a one-minute rip-roar of in-the-red calisthenics. And then, well, it's gone, replaced by the equally taut "Sacrifice": "Hit the lights/ I've had enough/ Guilt to build a city/ Shame to fill a sea/ Reasons to give up and lose everything/ Regret to burn this body/ Filth to cut these hands/ Reasons to bury this and everything we have." Vengeance? It's only 58 seconds long. Its motto: "I'm built for war."
The blast radius of those first few pieces is brutal. The rest of the album slows down, but refuses to relent. Only doomy centerpiece "Grim Heart/Black Rose", with its melodic, anguished guest vocals by ex-Only Living Witness fellow Jonah Jenkins, offers a chance to catch your breath. The track's an epic (over nine minutes), its ending a long fade-out, turning down the volume in the room instead of cutting the power. Despite Sabbathian overtones, it manages to maintain the crushing equation when Bannon reemerges near the album's close: A few raps of the cymbal, heavier bass tones, guitar reps, drum hits, adequate build, and then his bloody voice: "Black rose/ Be my light/ In the darkness of nights/ Be my heart." You couldn't cut the tension with a Lifetime record.
There are Nation of Ulysses call-and-response hardcore anthems ("Trophy Scars", "Lonewolves") and lines that could inspire Blake Schwarzenbach to emo feats of strength: "Keep your scars on your sleeve/ And your heart in your hands." Fancy guitars are whittled into sharp-edged daggers. Nugget-sized explosions offer violently poetic sentiments: "I'll strike you down/ With rage and rapture." Eardrums and asses are kicked.
When You Fail Me was released two years ago, there was grumbling about its post-Jane Doe experimentation and misspelled love letters. Some sticking points were the "First Light" intro and the acoustically bent "In Her Shadow". Nowadays, instead of overstuffed, that older album sounds a bit thin. It's a comparative backward glance: Guitarist Kurt Ballou did an especially fine job recording No Heroes. It's huge. Musically, as if panning for gold, the band removed everything extraneous and came up with something richer.
Also surprising: No Heroes is the longer record of the two, even with fewer songs. But because the writing's strong, it speeds by. You see what I'm getting at? I'm a big fan of You Fail Me and the past work, but I'd venture to say this is the band's most fully realized, which (again) is amazing this far into their catalog. Score a victory for old guys with bad knees! Conceptually reminiscent of the way Orthrelm's OV rocked socks within a tight framework, No Heroes is one of the year's most musically cohesive ways to keep pulses beating rapidly.
-Brandon Stosuy, December 13, 2006