You Fail Me
by Zach Bard
Chicago is dirty.
I'm not talking about mud-on-your-new-shoes accident dirty. I'm talking about hair in the drain, feces and urine on the wall and a stench that makes you wish you couldn't breathe dirty. Odors of this magnitude occur in the subway, not something I should rate a city on, but will since it's a mandatory stop for any tourist.
The subway transit cuts in and out of the darkness and light, changing faces and smells at each stop and never letting up. The tunnels mean sporadic blackouts, which can be frightening depending on who you are sitting next to. In these moments, trust is lost, and anyone could turn on you. It's in these moments that the old women grab for their cans of mace - the young men flex their muscles and prepare for sharpened metal. Gangs and thieves don't have to exist to cause stomach-churning fear, only darkness.
You Fail Me, the latest offering from Converge is this fear idealized.
The album's starter "First Light", sounds, in many ways, like a contradiction in terms. Instead of greeting the listener with a first glimpse at a new world, it pushes the listener away, creating a feeling of distance, loneliness and despair, like the light is on the wrong end of the tunnel, disappearing as the seconds go by. Another odd thing about "First Light" is that it marks the first time Converge hasn't started their album with an immediately raucous number. Past album starters include Jane Doe's (2001) blinding "Concubine", When Forever Comes Crashing's (1998) heavy-as-balls "My Unsaid Everything" and set closer/fan favorite "The Saddest Day" from Petitioning the Empty Sky (1997). "First Light" seems like a weak instigator compared to the past catalog's quota for intensity, but the distancing of the slow intro isn't permanent as the song actually grows into a horrifying lurker, setting the mood for the rest of the album. In track two, the true Converge emerges in the form of "Last Light," which uses the same guitar line from "First Light" along with a chaotic drum pace and shaking vocals crying out: "This is for the heart still beating".
Emerging from the tunnel, light embraces every corner, and faith is restored in the environment and humanity. A look out of the massive windows shows the city in perfect form as its people go about their daily routines.
Over the course of You Fail Me, desperation is unearthed. Converge's 5th full length allows them to flex their muscles and show off their strength in blending metallic hardcore and intensity, but this time with an extra dose of despair. This is not a surprise though, as vocalist Jake Bannon predicted his writing mood earlier in the year. In an interview with German magazine Southspace, Bannon explained the reasons for the record's bleakness.
"I started to see friendships dissolve, started to see the way people grew apart and I saw people distance themselves from people when they were going through some emotional issues - and in my situation I was feeling that distance and I was feeling that low point, I needed to creatively express that, be able to get it out of me, be able to somehow put it off on something else so it wouldn't drag me down with it."
Jake takes the listener along in his escape, dragging them down, beaten and bloodied in tracks like "Black Cloud", "Drop Out," and "Hope Street". These punishing anthems only pause to breathe, gather their weapons, and destroy again.
Not that You Fail Me is all gutter, smashed dirt, and blood. "In Her Shadow" shows the soft side of guitarist Kurt Ballou and Bannon, proving they have not fallen into a formulaic destroy-at-all-costs rut. Neurosis comes to mind as accoustic guitars slowly strum and crescendo as Bannon performs a spoken word funeral dirge quietly underneath.
A mess of apartment complexes, ghettos, mom and pop shops, and liquor stores littered the outskirts of the city. We'd all feel safer in deep downtown among the melting pot of Prada-elite, their faux followers and the social bottom feeders. At least then all we'd have to worry about is the homeless.
Bannon aside, Converge proves that they are a remarkably well balanced band, yet again. Ballou's impeccable guitar tone and a taste for Rickenbacker axes is a continued and welcomed signature. Nate Newton's bass force is fully felt as he matches Ballou's speed and powerful precision. The writing for this album reportedly started right after Jane Doe, and it shows. Many of the same types of hooks are found. Drummer Ben Koller has his shining moments in solo form starting off tracks like "Eagles Become Vultures" and "Hanging Moon". His double kick and snare rolls along with a every-now-and-then use of the ride are classic Converge.
As the subway moves at its rollercoaster pace, there are people outside, washing their windows, cooking breakfast, walking their dog and going about their daily activities. They pay no attention to those on the inside of the speeding cars, as we wait for the next plunge into darkness, hopefully arriving at our next destination.
The brutal force shown as Converge takes the stage has always been one for the books. Since their beginnings 14 years ago, they have been shocking crowds with not just their sound but stage presence and artistic integrity. Even off-the-court they are professionals. Jake co-runs Deathwish Inc. and directs art for most all of its releases. Ballou has made a name for himself in the mixing arena, helming studio sounds for Cave In, American Nightmare, Drowningman and most Deathwish releases as well as Converge. Two guys who seem to share a musical taste but are also talented enough to do well on their own. This kind of combination seems ripe to create intelligent, heavy music.
The train comes to a stop and people rush to get off. Immediately, the smell has found its way into my nostrils, meeting my brain and triggering the response that tells me that it is and always will be the smell of the Windy City. A dumping ground, sometimes frightening but always functional. And always dirty.