The most consistent band working wants to move forward, even at the risk of a misstep or two. That’s not to say they haven’t changed; their past five albums, recorded with their current lineup, have each sustained a coherent, self-contained aesthetic. The incendiary explosiveness of "Jane Doe," the rotted gouging of "You Fail Me," the straight assault of "No Heroes," the knotted melodicism of "Axe to Fall," the chiseled cuts of "All We Love We Leave Behind."
There’s not much of a “progression," per se, but that last album was notably the saddest-sounding in the catalog. The lean directness, a sort of plea to get across not only fury but the voice containing it. The rhythm barreled forward as guitars shot downward like an arrow volley, or torrents of stinging rain.
The opener for "The Dusk in Us," “A Single Tear” continues in this vein, reminiscent of the "AWLWLB" opener “Aimless Arrow” in the geometric shapes formed by its stop-and-start riff, but the chords linger longer and the notes weave in more loosely. Instead of closing in on itself, the sound opens up a vacuum for Jacob Bannon to sing, in a voice clearer than his signature screams but grounded in a guttural inflection, of the opportunity “to be someone who deserved love.” The chorus then peels itself away, with every chug falling into release. As the space between beats widens like a chasm, the words — “a single teardrop fell/and was swallowed by the sea” — fall into the landscape, consumed by a wave of guitars, and form a mirror image. The title is built up into a lament, the hope and potential loss in fatherhood. It’s one of the most transparent moments Converge offers, which is a risk given that Bannon’s lyrics aim toward the poetic and expectedly hits the maudlin. However the faithfulness of sound to sentiment allows the words to become subsumed by feeling, which isn’t so different from what they’ve always done.
The band’s use of space throughout much of the record, particularly the first half, allows them a new flexibility in sound to heighten the songs’ emotional resonance. On “Eye of the Quarrel,” they form a storm around the eye and as Kurt Ballou’s guitar continues to circle the rhythm, pushing it forward, a purgation: Bannon details what seems to be the effects and aftermath abuse before resolving that “my legacy won't inherit disease.” “Under Duress” weaves heavily into itself, creating an unstable ground whose effect warps the chorus admission that “compassion bends under duress,” which only makes the declaration that “(I) don’t need your war to find peace” more resolute. Highlight “Arkhipov Calm” is a particularly strong showcase of space as accumulation. The vocals are clear, and retain that measure of clarity when they push into a scream in the resolution that “my Arkhipov calm will serve me in time.” Afterwards, the mix opens up completely to accommodate the drums. It’s the simmering underneath, steady and powerful in its use.
There’s a throughline here, a fight to find peace in posterity and parentage. The connection between all those things is survival, and the first few songs act as different ways to attack potential threats. From the deceptively massive lead single “I Can Tell You About Pain” onward, the album divides itself into three types of songs. Most notably the Jesus Lizard-esque thrust of the back-to-back “Murk & Marrow” and “Trigger.” Predicated on a sense of unease, the chords stack on top of each other only to topple down. It’s especially caustic on “Murk & Marrow,” which starts with a base of eerie ambience and builds horizontally from it. The band sounds like they’re leaving destruction in their wake (note, the thud of the bass drum and its echo).
There are also, more expectedly, the straight rippers — “Broken by Light” and “Cannibals” are enjoyable, but neither very notable compared to some of the band’s other songs in this vein. Which makes sense given Ballou’s admission that “some of the songs on that album are actually some of the weakest ones that we recorded.” “Wildlife” works better because of the instability that it shares with the other songs, as constituent parts push past and recede in relation to each other.
It’s this quality that the two magisterial slower songs on "The Dusk in Us" especially embody. The centerpiece title track works as a sort of extension of the brief instrumental “Precipice” from "AWLWLB," guitar lingering over a shroud of emptiness. Bannon’s voice is low, near a whisper, and if the imagery includes the stuff of bedtime tales, ghosts and monsters, his delivery is solemn (though not without a bit of flair). Bannon’s two children, as on “A Single Tear,” play a prominent emotional role, as the lessons he imparts are addressed to a “little boy” and “little girl.” During this address the band forms waves, a high-pitched wisp ascending within it. Even as the cascade temporarily subsides they mirror its movement, and as it returns it builds up in a way that feels particularly grounded in sadness.
When the screams emerge from underneath, they’re impassioned but almost stately in their delivery. “Dusk lives within us/Darkness won't give up.”
The feedback that closes out the track, and its brief echo, are the scary reminder of its perpetual existence. Later, on “Thousands of Miles Between Us,” the waves return, to a dialogue between adults. The self-imperative to “stand up straight, take it on the chin/pick up my teeth and start again” is imbued with the pain of feeling the shadows you had once merely heard of.
Out of this rises closer “Reptilian,” which solidifies form and looks over what came before: “We must lose sight of the shore to know what courage means / We must lose sight of who we are to know what we can be.” It’s the risk of this distance, and the space it creates, that Converge face "The Dusk in Us," spreading out less beyond their previous scope than within the shadowed corners that have already been there — it's a bit uneven in its exploration, but if it sounds like one of their most vital and affecting albums, it seems they understand why.
Eric Ng is a writer for Daily Lobo Music. He can be reached at email@example.com.