Converge – Bloodmoon: I (Album Review)

Converge – Bloodmoon: I
Released: November 19, 2021

Lineup:

Jacob Bannon // vocals
Kurt Ballou // guitar
Nate Newton // bass
Ben Koller // drums
Stephen Brodsky // vocals/guitar
Chelsea Wolfe // vocals
Ben Chisolm // producer/songwriter/arrangement 

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As much as I love the mystical journey of Bloodmoon: I, having the Converge label stamped upon it does feel kinda deceptive. As it’s not really a Converge record, not the kind of mathcore or metalcore you think of when you plug their name into a search engine. But then again, in many ways, it also is very much an album by them. (“Schrödinger’s Converge.”) If anything, it’s closer to Jacob Bannon’s other band, Wear Your Wounds, with influences ranging from Baroness, Pink Floyd, Neurosis, and some moments that even sound like Ghost, except good.

Bloodmoon: I is like someone invaded my membrane and pulled out my most dreamt about musical collaborations. What started out as a special live performance in 2016, reimaging Converge songs, has now become an intense recorded experience. So who’s in this Blood Brain Trust? All four members of Converge for one, striking at a lengthier, denser post-metal sound, further exploring similar ideas heard on their last couple of records. (Like this or this.) We have the ever-talented Chelsea Wolfe bringing her ghostly vocal presence, including her longtime collaborator and producer, Ben Chisholm, adding keys, synths and symphonic bells and whistles throughout. Then there’s the legend himself, Stephen Brodsky, former Converge bassist – hear him on 1998’s “When Forever Comes Crashing”– current Old Man Gloom bassist, and leading man for both Cave In and Mutoid Man. (Six degrees of metalcore separation: Ben Koller drums in Mutoid Man and bassist Nate Newton plays guitar in Old Man Gloom.) 

Okay, but what’s the sound of this super group’s collaborative LP? Simultaneously it shares DNA of all parties involved yet can sound very little like either artist. More specifically, this is spooky, symphonic, stoner-adjacent post-metal-doom-core. Fans of Wolfe’s phenomenal 2017 album, Hiss Spun, will feel at home, as will open minded Converge lovers who dig their longer formats, who understand that this band can’t keep re-writing Jane Doe math-savagery until they kick the bucket. It’s the most produced Converge album, no contest. Strings and pianos stalk shadows, synths push up the cool soil, and having two other very esteemed vocalists push the mood along helps make it one of their most ambitious releases. 31 years in, still doing cool new shit, ya love to see it.

Bloodmoon: I is a big fucking record. At almost an hour long – and you definitely feel that length – it has moments of their classic, violently sporadic instrumental tendencies, but such parts are spread thin. Like how the feral hardcore assault of early ‘Verge appears in the opening seconds of ‘Viscera Of Men,’ but then takes a sudden, dramatic doom turn just as quickly as it attacked; Brodsky and Wolfe creating a cacophonous harmony that howls with confidence and bloodthirstiness. 

For this quartet’s side of the equation, less was more. Koller’s jittery percussion and Kurt Ballou’s angular riffage rarely appear, the pair favouring slower and tasteful yet still super heavy movements, displaying a patient restraint that works for much of the album. So when the chaotic shit does kick in, it’s all the more impactful. This allows for songs like the karmic dirge of ‘Daimon’ to breathe before being earth-shattering when it transitions into its final post-metal waves; this makes shorter, more vicious songs like ‘Tongues Playing Dead’ properly stand out. The way I see it, too much more of the typical fast and furious Converge on a record such as this would’ve been the equivalent of hurriedly jingling keys at random intervals. It just wouldn’t be called for. 

Converge give their pals equal space on Bloodmoon: I. Bannon shares the vocal (and lyricism) duties here among his two cohorts, only contributing his iconic screams or raspy singing when absolutely necessary for each given song. Along with the musical pedigree and dexterity on offer, this also helps to make no two songs here feel overtly similar, and that’s a great balance to strike on what can be a protracted record. Variety is the spice of life, or whatever Paul Atreides said. (Yeah I saw Dune recently, it was dope, leave me alone.)  

Blood Moon’ was a choice starting point, not just as an opener, but also for the record’s initial announcement as a lead single. Acting like its summoning some eldritch being from beyond our moon, with ritualistic ruminations on all things astral, like its reading out Bloodborne fan-fiction, it sets the gothic mood of the larger record perfectly. It’s this tense and darkened slow-burner that holds firm on its build-up and eventual execution, weaving together the differing sections and respective voices, both instrumental and literal, of its creators in balanced ways. Bannon, Brodsky and Wolfe, in that order, as distortion starts to wail louder. Then, once it all hits hard as its figurative moon reaches the highest point in the night sky, it’s downright overwhelming. 

The heavily saturated ‘Tongues Playing Dead’ doesn’t have Wolfe anywhere in sight, with Brodsky and Bannon teaming up, with riffs gloriously sounding like the kind of turn-of-the-century metalcore that bands like they and Cave In helped push. ‘Lord Of Liars’ is then Converge playing Southern punk with Wolfe’s folk vocals intercutting Bannon’s screams, before turning into off-kilter madness with dissonant runs and feedback harshness. The grim orchestral goth-rock of ‘Coil’ dynamically coils like a serpent ready to lash out, adding in some graveyard-hour metal vibes. (If they surprise released this album on Halloween, it would’ve been too fitting.) Elsewhere, the sunburnt sparseness of ‘Scorpion’s Sting’ is a Wolfe-led piece of foreboding mood, whereas ‘Failure Forever’ is melodic, Brodsky taking the lead, churning out great performances next to Bannon’s larynx ferocity. 

On that note, Bannon’s screams are perfectly contrasted by Wolfe’s haunting range, as is Brodsky’s from-the-heart singing over the course of these 11 songs. Sometimes in subtle ways, other times in not-so-subtle mannerisms. Listen carefully: you’ll hear synthesizers from Chisholm underneath some of these behemoth instrumentals; notice sinister whispers from Wolfe, like on ‘Viscera Of Men’; catch the Cave In/Mutoid Man bandleader poetically crooning on ‘Flower Moon.’

One song I must talk about is the incredible ‘Crimson Stone.’ Long and droning but in a good way, this is the epic of the LP. When Brodsky’s vocals enter as the song hits its huge second half, it takes off with thoughtful piano motifs, eventually reaching a crushing crescendo that’s harder than obsidian. It’s my favourite musical climax of 2021 next to ‘Bad Selection’ by The Armed. Next up, however, is ‘Blood Dawn’, some dark Americana ripped from Wolfe’s previous album, but one that feels wholly unnecessary. As a closer, it’s completely dwarfed by ‘Crimson Stone’ before it. I cannot fathom why ‘Blood Dawn’ is the finale when ‘Crimson Stone’ is the perfect send-off for this record already? ‘Blood Dawn’ acts like the “credits” to this album’s “movie”, but like when you’re at the cinema, you’ve already gotten up to leave before the credits are even half done scrolling.

Bloodmoon: I might not be for every Wolfe or Converge fan, but it is for me. And this is my review. It’s a record that might finally grab people who never clicked with the iconic ‘Verge records, and vice versa for people who can’t get into Wolfe’s eclectic works. Much has and will be said about Converge and Wolfe’s contributions, but I’ve also seen frighteningly little about Brodsky. Given his position in some of the most lauded heavy acts of the last twenty years, this hurts my soul. (I’ve read reviews that have either failed to mention his contributions or only mention him once. He deserves more than what chumps will give him when covering this particular release.) Don’t do this man dirty. 

Comparisons have and will be between this record and Cult Of Luna’s Julie Christmas–featuring 2016 epic or that most excellent Thou/Emma Ruth Rundle split album. Yet these three records are all different entities. In the case of Converge & Friends, it’s a gothic and moonlit, rather bluesy dirge-rock album with bouts of feral hardcore spliced in. It’s fucking sick, is anything but half-assed, and the staggering end-result is one that couldn’t happen without Brodsky, Chisholm and Wolfe. Bloodmoon: I is many things all at once, the kind of monster that takes multiple listens to fully appreciate. The numerical value placed on this album’s title also indicates that this likely won’t be the last time we see this team-up. I, for one, certainly hope it’s not. 

Converge – Bloodmoon: I tracklisting:

1. Blood Moon
2. Viscera Of Men
3. Coil
4. Flower Moon
5. Tongues Playing Dead
6. Lord Of Liars
7. Failure Forever
8. Scorpion’s Sting
9. Daimon
10. Crimson Stone
11. Blood Dawn

Rating: 8.5/10
Bloodmoon: I is out now via Deathwish Inc/Epitaph – Pre-order it here
Review by Alex Sievers – @AlexJSievers

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