Despite members’ various side-hustles and extracurricular activities, Converge as we know them have been the same core unit for some 20 years now: a locked-in puzzle box wherein cruel, intricate pieces mesh to form something artful and elegant, yet undeniably deadly. Even for a band so creatively restless and laser-focused on pushing their music forward, Bloodmoon: I feels like a significant shift in terms of both sound and spirit: a de facto blowing open of the bunker doors that invites trusted friends into the band’s creative inner circle.
While other musicians have long dotted the band’s releases – most notably 2009’s Axe To Fall, which added a smorgasbord of high-profile players to the album’s list of credits – there’s always been the sense that such collaborators were very much guests chez Converge. The Roadburn-birthed Bloodmoon: I, by contrast, sees Chelsea Wolfe, Ben Chisholm and Cave In’s Stephen Brodsky roll up their sleeves and get involved at a foundational level, kneading the musculature and funnelling creative juices in directions that it would be hard to imagine Jacob Bannon, Kurt Ballou and co taking on their own.
The most immediately noticeable departure for long-time listeners will be the addition of Chelsea Wolfe’s sinuous voice. She oozes amid the shredded rasps and phantom croons like honey flecked with broken glass as she accentuates the opening track’s queasy, writhing lurch and the feverish trails of its lingering melodies. If a more familiar collaborator, the influence of longtime pal and former bassist Stephen Brodsky also takes the band into some unforeseen places. While the tangly Led-Zeppelin-gone-prog riffing of Tongues Playing Dead isn’t too strange a gambit, the spacey post-hardcore of Failure Forever definitely edges into less familiar territory, nodding as it does to the likes of, err, Failure.
This isn’t to say that this is an album that solely comprises stylistic sidesteps and wild artistic leaps. Viscera Of Men opens with the kind of rabid, ravening blast with which we’re intimately familiar – even if it does sprawl out into a doom-laden horrorscape that’s part-way between holiness and blasphemy – while elsewhere, the ominous descents and impossible, needle-like spires mark out terrain that the band have traversed over the course of their lengthy career. It’s testament to all the players, that even the most un-Converge-like elements form logical parts of a grander picture. Nothing sounds a whit out of place – not even the Wolfe-led Scorpion’s Sting, which comes off like a Lynchian murder ballad, or the quiet, yearning ache that introduces the sublime Crimson Stone.
By turns devastating, majestic and redemptive, Bloodmoon: I doesn’t feel like a happy accident, or even the product of sheer hard work by a handful of supremely talented musicians. It feels like an album that needed to be made: a chest-tighteningly exciting and thoroughly atypical piece of work from a band who have not just redefined themselves, but also the entire heavy metal landscape. Again.
Converge & Chelsea Wolfe's Bloodmoon: I is out now via Epitaph/Deathwish Inc