There have been more than a few hotly anticipated albums in the "aggressive music" genre this year, among them Dillinger Escape Plan's Miss Machine and Mastodon's Leviathan. Both of these struck me as underwhelming, since they stick too closely to the prog-core and metal blueprints that, respectively, these bands were supposed to be tearing up.
Converge, on the other hand, is an older and more meticulous bunch of metalheads. 2001's Jane Doe redefined what it means to rock by emphasizing the emotional extremes of aggressive music, pushing the lyrical and sonic edges of hardcore and metal to their breaking points. In Converge's world, there's no middle range of emotions. There's only fear, pain, grief and hate. That the band managed to somehow broaden this admittedly limited palette (instead of writing a concept album about, say, Moby-Dick) is what makes Converge significant.
You Fail Me returns to the spiritual darkness that Jane Doe mapped out, but this time the boundaries that marked that territory have shrunk down even more. Kurt Ballou's epic guitar swaths that once cut their way across drummer Ben Koller's surgical-striking beats have grown angular, knotty and less effects-laden. There's even a harshly strummed acoustic at the heart of "In Her Shadow," something few would've expected from a band with this much anger at its core.
Yet it works. "First Light" is just a few fractured arpeggios from a reverbed guitar, with "Second Light" stepping in to demolish any preconception that this may be Converge's mildest effort. Indeed, each song delivers a new and improved means of destruction, from the explosive note-bending of "Black Cloud" to the two-chord garrote of "Eagles Become Vultures." All the while, vocalist Jacob Bannon shrieks like he's being tortured in a serial killer's basement under the thin, harsh glare of a 60-watt light bulb.
If you want to enter the heart's slaughterhouse, where, to quote Bannon's lyrics, every relationship is "a rehearsed tragedy," then You Fail Me never falters.