If you asked me to introduce Converge to the uninitiated, particularly to someone unaccustomed to the more “extreme” end of the musical spectrum, I wouldn’t play them one of the band’s longer, softer tracks like ‘Farewell Note to this City’ or ‘Wretched World’. Whilst this would serve as a means of easing them into the band’s sonic maelstrom, these, and a dozen or so other tracks like them, are, of course, the exceptions to the dominant rule of Converge’s sound. No, I would get them to watch a YouTube video of a talk given at the Berklee College of Music, hosted by Professor Susan Rogers, legendary recording engineer for Prince, David Byrne, and, uhm, The Barenaked Ladies.

In the video, Converge guitarist and GodCity recording studio head, Kurt Ballou, and co-engineer/producer, Matthew Ellard, discuss the making of the band’s seminal, genre-defining 2001 album, Jane Doe, in front of a small crowd of sound engineering students. Before they do, Rogers (described… ahem... affectionately by YouTube commenters variously as a “soccer-mom-looking lady” and a “librarian looking bitch”), heaps praise on the band’s work, according them the kind of academic appreciation that one would not ordinarily associate with music like this. A few minutes in and they play the album’s skin-peeling opening track, ‘Concubine’, and it’s an amusingly incongruous scenario. Heads bop, Rogers sways like she’s tripping out to The Grateful Dead, and Ballou looks mildly uncomfortable, as Jacob Bannon’s coruscating screams blare out of MacBook speakers. What follows is a long, deeply thoughtful, intelligent discussion of the nature of the band’s sound, and the mechanics of recording it. If you had dismissive and faintly negative stereotypes in mind about the kind of people who can produce music as abrasive, aggressive and challenging as Converge’s, then I implore you to watch the video. It certainly blew Converge fans’ minds that Professor Rogers was into it. So, you know, it goes both ways.

The point of that preamble is to say that the initial shock to the system that comes from hearing the music made by Jacob Bannon, Kurt Ballou, Nate Newton and Ben Koller for the first time, should not overshadow the fact that this is carefully considered, complex music with genuine emotional heft, and incontestable artistic merit. Those of you who aren’t reading this review by accident, know this already of course. You also know that Converge is arguably the defining metallic hardcore band, with an influence that extends beyond the musical to take in the overriding visual aesthetic of the scene, thanks to the iconic artwork created by vocalist/lyricist, Bannon. Furthermore, you’ll be aware that Converge have one of the most intimidatingly consistent back catalogues of any band of any genre of the past twenty years. Which means that expectations for The Dusk In Us are unreasonably high.

Fortunately, Bannon, Ballou, Newton and Koller do not let us down. The Dusk In Us is a more than worthy addition to Converge’s discography, and stands out for a number of reasons. Firstly, less than half of the album’s 13 tracks are the kind of sub-three-minute, inexplicably fast and technically awe-inspiring barnstormers with which Converge have made their reputation as one of the most fearsomely tight quartets in the genre. Secondly, Bannon’s vocals are at their most varied since Petitioning the Sky, with spoken-word and clean singing joining his characteristic yells and monstrous, lungful-of-air-per-word, screams, in his repertoire. Newton’s backing vocals are also at their most prominent on tracks like penultimate number, ‘Thousands of Miles Between Us’, the closest Converge have ever come to writing a lighter-waving rock song.

Converge albums are most easily remembered by thinking of the tracks that constitute stylistic outliers. Take the monolithically sludgy title track of Jane Doe, or the Swans-esque doom-folk of ‘In Her Shadow’ on You Fail Me, or ‘Grim Heart/Black Rose’, the epic centrepiece of the otherwise almost grindcore-leaning frenzy of No Heroes, or the last two tracks on Axe to Fall, which actually featured lead vocals by guest singers from Neurosis and Genghis Tron respectively. All of these give indication of Converge’s versatility. On The Dusk In Us, we have a handful of tracks that see Converge pushing at the boundaries of their sound, even escaping it entirely. This leads to some of the most accessible, catchy, and (uncoincidentally) most emotionally resonant work of their careers. There’s precedent for this, of course. The band’s previous album, All We Love We Leave Behind, is one of the most moving 45 minutes of aggressive music of recent memory. The combined force of ‘Precipice’ and that album’s colossal title track approach the ecstatically mournful heights of post-rock at its best. And then there’s Jacob Bannon’s first solo album as Wear Your Wounds, WYW, which came out earlier this year and relied heavily on post-rock songwriting dynamics. On this new album, the Slint-esque proto-post-rock of the title track and the aforementioned ‘Thousands of Miles Between Us’, clearly bear the marks of these influences.

To listen to an album as punishingly ferocious as this and come away with a stark impression of its emotional vulnerability is quite some feat on the part of the band. As ever, Bannon has described the songs as merely being about what has happened in the band members’ lives. Bannon, for his part, has recently become a father and the album opener, ‘A Single Tear’, explicitly addresses this experience, and the life-affirming epiphany it provoked. “When I held you for the first time/ I knew I had to survive,” he sings with desperate earnestness, in a moment that wouldn’t be out of place on a Touché Amoré song. The track instantly blossoms with a beautiful rising guitar line that belies the fact that the song is, despite the indescribably brutal pummelling of its chorus, a moving paean to new fatherhood. Family is central to ‘Eye of the Quarrel’ as well, with Bannon revealing, in uncompromising terms, the undesirable ugliness of his inherited family legacy (“Queen of the garbage/ Prince of the weeds”) and vowing to not pass the “disease” on to his own offspring. Bannon has stated that the ultimate goal of his art is to turn his painful experiences into something positive for his listeners. In that sense, the song serves jointly as a metaphor for his artistic aims.

Elsewhere on the album, Bannon looks outward to address the torrid state of the world. The impossibly heavy, and positively queasy-sounding ‘Under Duress’ describes sickness spreading and compassion bending in a world where everyone is in a constant state of stress, pressure and confrontation. The stunning, and downright catchy 'Wildlife’ describes being born into “such a cruel, cruel world,” wherein survival is a “cruel, cruel curse.” In ‘Trigger’, a song that may or may not be about gun control, the world is “a trigger seemingly without end.” On this track, Converge come close to sounding like New York noise rock crew Unsane, and deliver what to my ears is the best hard rock song of the year. Nate Newton’s bassline is the very definition of badass, Ballou’s squealing guitar during the verses is inspired, and Bannon’s vocals drip with menacing disdain. “Tell me was it fucking worth it?” Bannon demands at the song’s close. Fuck your thoughts and prayers, indeed. Finally, on album closer, ‘Reptilian’, the world is likened to a de facto Inferno, as Bannon observes that “devils do not need a hell to exist.” It’s tempting to read the song as a commentary on Trump’s America, so I’ll go right ahead and do that.

Given all of the above, it would be fair to note that, on one level, The Dusk In Us is a bleakly dark album, thematically. Case in point, the title track is a nightmarish vision of the darkness we all hold within us, be it personal demons or mental illness, or otherwise. That darkness prances on the wall, creeps up the bed, to thrive and nest within us. But Bannon offers light and hope too, addressing his listeners with kind concern: “dear frightened little boy/ it’s time to rise above all of their noise,” and “dear shattered little girl/ this is not the end of your world/ it’s the beginning of the rest of your life.” According to Bannon, we have it in us to overcome adversity, to rise above conflict, to cast aside fears, to seize control, and to embrace empathy. On ‘Arkhipov Calm’, which is likely to become a fan favourite thanks to its math-y leading riff and Koller’s stop-start drumming, Bannon compares his ability to avoid getting drawn into unnecessary confrontation to the clear-headedness of the Soviet naval officer who prevented all-out nuclear conflict during the cold war. Love as a redemptive virtue is also referred to repeatedly. On ‘Cannibals’ we’re all basically eating each other if we lose sight of love and empathy. In the smoke-cloaked world of ‘Murk & Marrow’ “love needs to feed.” ‘Thousands of Miles Between Us’ is, heartbreakingly, about love pursued and lost. Nevertheless, the song’s narrator sees the necessity of “[picking] up [his] teeth and [starting] again.”

And yet, despite all of the thematic heaviness, The Dusk In Us is, like all Converge albums since Petitioning the Sky, an absolute fucking blast to listen to. When these four guys get together, they wring purified catharsis out of their instruments, and it’s simply a joy to behold. There’s Ballou’s supremely inventive guitar work and seemingly inexhaustible supply of killer riffs, constantly keeping the listener guessing (although I would argue that there’s perhaps a little too much use of feedback squall, despite its undeniable effectiveness on ‘I Can Tell You About Pain’). There’s the best rhythm section in heavy music in Newton and Koller; the former’s melodicism and intricacy belying his status as a guitar player who was convinced to play bass, whilst the latter will, one day, surely be revealed to be some kind of highly evolved superhuman. The way Koller keeps songs barreling along, whilst anchoring all the whiplash-inducing time signature changes, is simply awe-inspiring. And Bannon, whose voice has often been more percussive than being any kind of intelligible conveyor of meaning, comes into his own on The Dusk In Us, with the most varied and dynamic set of performances of his career. And to top it all off, Ballou’s mastery behind the boards means that all of these performances are captured with exceptional clarity and, consequently, achieve the maximum physical impact. It’s no coincidence that Ballou has been responsible for recording some of the best metal albums of the past few years, such as Nails’ You Will Never Be One of Us, Sumac’s What One Becomes, and Old Man Gloom’s The Ape of God.

As you can tell, I have very few complaints about The Dusk In Us. I have only two significant gripes. Firstly (and with tongue firmly in cheek), I have to ask: where on earth is ‘Eve’, the b-side to the album’s lead single? Seriously, only Converge could release a track that’s immediately heralded by their fanbase as one of their best ever and not even put it on the bloody record. My other gripe is with the sequencing, specifically of the title track, which I would argue, deserves to be the album closer, switching spots with ‘Reptilian’. In its current position, its relative softness is jarring, sat as it is between the excoriating ‘I Can Tell You About Pain’ and the head-spinning thrill ride of ‘Wildlife’. The album’s momentum is temporarily lost, even as you recognise that you are listening to what is a fantastic song in and of itself. If ever a track deserved to herald the curtain call at a record’s close, it’s ‘The Dusk In Us’.

Nevertheless, as the dust settles following the eviscerating denouement of ‘Reptilian’, you’re left to reflect upon how Converge’s music serves as a prescient reminder that, yes, the world’s a shitty place, that life is full of pain, and that darkness comes from inside us all. But, more so than ever before, it also asserts that, ultimately, we have the means within us to choose love over hate, compassion over fear, and transform that darkness into light, if not for ourselves, then at least for others. If that’s not a vital message for today’s world, then I don’t know what is.