When you put out one of the most beloved pieces of art of the 21st century, you deserve a free pass. In an ideal world, you’d be allowed to fuck around. You’d be allowed to get real indulgent. You’d be allowed to just cruise for a bit. After all, your art never owes anything to anyone. It’s you and what you choose it to be. Us fans should be happy we were even exposed to brilliance in the first place. Unfortunately, our little music ecosystem isn’t that understanding. Achieving greatness sets up unreasonably high expectations. Suddenly, your little band has a following and with a following comes pressure. And that pressure has cutdown countless promising artists.
That’s not at all what happened with Converge. Following the success of the astronomical opus Jane Doe, they pushed along and in 2004 produced You Fail Me. You Fail Me doesn’t exactly eat Jane Doe’s lunch nor is it necessarily on the same level, but it’s a more than respectable followup. If anything, You Fail Me was the document that allowed us to see who Converge really are. They could’ve easily rested on their laurels and produced Jane Doe Part 2. Instead, the band dug further down and became more experimental. The tireless sense of creativity continued throughout their career and produced no shortage of exceptional work from 2006’s No Heroes to 2012’s All We Love We Leave Behind. Then five years of silence.
Well, it wasn’t total silence. Converge never disappeared from public consciousness. They’ve all been consistently busy with side projects. Just this year we got releases from All Pigs Must Die, Mutoid Man and the grim slowcore of Jacob Bannon’s Wear Your Wounds. And really, when is Kurt Ballou not up to something? These days it’s unheard of to go a whole year without at least one album with his fingerprints on it. As far as side hustles go, you can do a lot worse. They’d probably even stand on their own if you were to take away the Converge association. During the time away, the band never officially announced a hiatus or anything like that. Five years is a long time, but I don’t recall hearing any serious doubts about whether or not we’d get another Converge album. The band just feels like one of life’s few constants at this point.
Regardless of their position in the extreme music cultural sphere, it’d be understandable to question whether or not they still have it. Like I said, five years is a long time and aging is rarely kind to even metal’s most top tier practitioners. Then again, this is Converge we’re talking about. The Dusk In Us serves as the perfect reminder that no band on Earth compares to the force of nature that is Converge as a unit. Whether its Bannon, or a riff, or a beat, the synergy in action never let’s up for anything resembling a dull moment. The album features everything that’s right and good about Converge like the urgent “Arkhipov Calm” or the manic “Under Duress”. It’s hard to think of a more thrilling album closer to come out this year than “Reptilian”. Towering doom riffs and a locked-the-fuck-in rhythm section make way for anthemic thrash infused hardcore.
Being a fine tuned machine of hardcore efficiency is all well and good, but what allowed Converge to imbed themselves in so many lives is their sense of emotional catharsis. Jane Doe was one of its kind because it allowed a space for an extreme band to wrestle with things like heartbreak and disappointment in a mature and cleansing way. Ever since then, their material has belonged just as much in the circle pit as is does in your heart. As the band progressed, the emotional terrain only became more nuanced. That pattern continues on The Dusk In Us where Converge examine their heaviest and most existential subject matter yet: parenthood.
Album opener “A Single Tear” chronicles the profoundly eye-opening moment of holding your child for the first time. Guitars shred, drums pummel, and the track rips itself to pieces while Bannon howls, “As a single teardrop fell/ And was swallowed by the sea/ You outshined the best there was/ Rewrote who I could be”. That deep sense of love between a father and their newborn also brings a new kind of responsibility. Bannon immediately follows up with the track’s key moment howling “When I held you for the first time/ I knew I had to survive”. On “Eye of the Quarrel” the band rails against the notion of their children inheriting any of their flaws as Bannon screams “My legacy won’t inherit disease from me”.
There’s a futility to Bannon’s pleas that progresses and comes to fruition on the album’s title track. “The Dusk In Us” is a haunted drone not unlike Wear Your Wounds. The instrumental drifts along with Bannon eerily crooning “Dear frightened little boy/ it’s time to rise above all the noise/ Ghosts are merely shadows, you are flesh and bone”. Toward the end, the guitars become impenetrable and Bannon screams the mantra “Dusk lives within us/ Darkness won’t give up”. What may or may not be lurking under the bed or in the closet is what haunts kids, but parents know the true horror is waiting outside the home. Monsters aren’t real, but people are. As a whole, The Dusk In Us is the realization that parents can never truly protect their children. Maybe you’ll be fortunate enough to provide a secure environment for your offspring to flourish, but society’s cruelty will kick down the door eventually.
If you haven’t put it together yet, The Dusk In Us is a great album. It very much sits right up there with the band’s best work. But, there’s something I haven’t addressed yet. Regardless of how great the album is, it’s easy to scoff at a hardcore band after two decades of existence. Hardcore is, more often than not, looked at as a young man’s game. The entire genre, like most forms of abrasive and confrontational art, was birthed through a youthful response to complicated emotions and situations. But, the thing is, those complications don’t magically go away once we’re older. You probably aren’t pining over romantic entanglements or the things that were important to teenage you that often anymore, but I’m sure you’re much more aware of the daily atrocities out in the world. Figure new parenthood into the mix and the distress doubles. Listening to The Dusk In Us only makes me wonder why we aren’t all in hardcore bands.