Hardcore as high art on Converge’s ‘The Dusk in Us’
The terrifying beauty of “The Dusk in Us,” by perhaps the most influential Boston hardcore band in a scene full of them, raises a question that is rarely met with a satisfactory answer: What is it about dark music that we find difficult to excavate for light?
Converge has for 27 years and nine albums thrummed on raw emotion, riding this dawn/twilight nexus atop the most blistering music many listeners will ever hear. They mine the deepest recesses of inner life with melancholy and outrage, and they’ve never done so with more dynamic reach than on “The Dusk in Us,” out Friday. Yet despite how nuanced Converge become, threading elegance through frenzy, the heart of their cacophony often goes unheard.
But what is “Apocalypse Now” if not a brooding meditation on hypocrisy and escape? Or “The Flaying of Marsyas,” by the 16th-century painter Titian, if not a comment on hubris? Why do we crave challenge from film and fine art while we implore music to comfort?
“Blood flows everywhere, the exposed sinews are visible,” wrote Ovid, whose “Metamorphoses” provided Titian’s source material. “And the trembling veins quiver, without skin to hide them.”
We need images of desperation to grasp political and internal warfare. We also, occasionally, require evisceration to knead us toward purging. Music does more than blithely ferry us along our Sisyphean journey: Purging is how we expire aggression.
“The Dusk in Us” is, then, a 44-minute master class in wielding extreme art toward human ends, using hardcore’s berating heft as a foundation for dirging experimentalism. Frontman Jacob Bannon, a fine artist whose design work for Converge has a fractured Titian quality of its own, has always hopped between banshee screams, throaty yells, and charcoal-dim melodies, but typically in separate songs. Here, particularly on “A Single Tear” and “Archipov Calm,” the 41-year-old perfects the alchemy. “When I held you for the first time,” Bannon gasps on “Tear,” “I knew I had to survive.”
All four members of Converge became fathers between their 2012 album “All We Love We Leave Behind” and “The Dusk in Us,” and the immensity of this charge colors Bannon’s lyrics in myriad ways. When he’s not addressing the rebirth he experienced through fatherhood, Bannon excoriates those who failed him in youth. He levels arrows at monsters who prey on children and the “shadow kings” who bait us with fear into war.
Yet much as Bannon laments the world these children will come to know, “The Dusk in Us” runs on veiled hope: His offspring give him “the chance to be someone who deserved love,” and though “darkness won’t give up,” Bannon suggests this world is perhaps redeemable through communion, through rising above — which is as hardcore a message as any.
“Preciously violent. Beautifully abhorrent.” This is how Converge portrays the unfailing dichotomy at the root of human experience. We make peace with the dusk. We thrive despite devils.
What, anyway, should we ask of art? Fearlessness in all forms.