onverge are a scary band. They don’t scare with death metal theatrics, or hardcore-er than thou beat-down posturing—they scare with their sound, which with No Heroes falls somewhere between blood machinery coughing up rust and a chalkboard nail scratching contest. That sound, of course, is the product of Converge’s mastermind guitarist/engineer Kurt Ballou, a sound that creates a blackened common ground to stand on for the many species of heavy or extreme music aficionado. Converge are hell’s Santa Claus, showering razor blade treats to the children from nosebleed heights. For the metal head, Converge offer a stomping technical shred at skin sloughing speed. To all the good little hardcore kids, they offer a strain of catharsis unmatched in its bleakness. And for that lucky little noise-o-phile; there’s a daring compositional sense, and a bloodforest of sandpaper sound textures to hike through.
While there is still something here for most on the black clad end of the sub-cultural spectrum, the album takes particular care to embrace the pithy face-punch anthemnity of old school hardcore. As Converge have been instrumental in the expansion of the contemporary hardcore vocabulary—embracing music signifiers previously under the dominion of metal or grind—this return to roots makes this album something of a homecoming.
The first five tracks, all of which clock in between 58 and 103 seconds, constitute the most overtly hardcore section of the album, or of any Converge album to date for that matter. Opener “Heartache,” is a snarling breakdown interrupted by a minute of slicing blast and bark from vocalist Jacob Bannon. Immediately following is a string-busting bass line introducing a frantic minute of galloping annihilation entitled “Hellbound.”
After the opening salvo, the album moves into more familiar territory, the track “No Heroes” offering a perfected version of the patented Converge pummel; a series of scratchy riffs, blasts, and a soul puckering build-up, followed by “Plagues,” a dirge drag through mud and broken glass giving Bannon a chance to alternate between his clawing scream and his (more subtle) megaphone shouts.
The centerpiece of the album is the nine minute epic “Grim Heart / Black Rose.” Less instrumentally rich than the similarly lengthy tracks from their previous two albums (“In Her Shadow,” and “Jane Doe”), it relies on the guest vocal of former Only Living Witness vocalist Jonah Jenkins, who is able to push beyond the grim stasis of Bannon, singing in that standard, non-throat bleeding, brashly musical sense. As an extended instrumental build, the track is in league with the slow burns of Isis and Neurosis, but with the addition of Jenkins’ swaggering lament, it’s able to connect more succinctly than the efforts of either band.
The rest of the album is a mixed bag, with another hardcore anthem, a few tracks with a post-hardcore inclination (“Lonewolves,” “Trophy Scars”), a pair of thrashing metal numbers (“Versus,” “To the Lions”), and an oddly plaintive descending guitar line propelled by manic drums on “Bare My Teeth.”
On its own terms the album is a success, finding Converge exploring new forms and reveling in old ones. But while this album makes a concise and explicit argument for the (ahem) converging vocabularies of metal and hardcore over the last decade, it isn’t quite as affecting or cohesive as their previous outings. No Heroes isn’t feral and instinctual like Jane Doe, and certainly doesn’t reach the dizzying epileptic heights of You Fail Me. Despite it’s relative failures as a Converge album, as an album among its peers it should only go further to prove the group as one of the preeminent metal/hardcore bands this decade. Such is the trial facing such talent.
Reviewed by: Sam Roudman
Reviewed on: 2006-10-30