By Chaz Kangas
By Sound of the City
By Peter Gerstenzang
By Katherine Turman
By Chris Kornelis
By Brian McManus
By Ray Cummings
By Nicholas Pell
Converge's Jane Doe and Mastodon's Remission jetted out of the metal landscape a couple of years back, entrancing like objects from the future. Both monolithic albums reeled in hordes of fans and mounds of gloating press.
For extreme-music freaks, the band's follow-ups rank with 2004's most anticipated.
Converge call themselves punks, but their arsenal leaves extreme-metal bruises: glass-gargling bloody-throat screams, manic riffs razored with dissonant prog, drums battling the sonic mobocracy. Their new You Fail Me explores frenetic meta-mathematics similar to Jane's, but the execution is even more dynamic. Some artier riffs wedged in the middle of the tumult could've fit on an Unwound or Come record, and the melodic "In Her Shadow" commits a scarecrow-swaying Neurosis-like cornfield sacrificewith acoustic guitars. Converge are crushingly dark, with extra blackness on top. But without the lyric sheet, you might not pick up on how hope counters their indecipherable tortured-troglodyte screams and trusty lyrical themes of loss, addiction, breakup, and disappointment. "I need to know that there is trophy and meaning to all that we lose and all that we fight for," vocalist Jacob Bannon pleads on the album's best track, the anthemic "Last Light," suggesting Blonde Redhead knife-fighting a metal Rites of Spring. "Keep living, keep searching, keep pushing on."
Mastodon, too, have pulled off an ass-kicking successor, floating at or above their previous watermark. It's kingly that they could match the über-rich variety of Remission: a mix of stoner rock, tuneful Thin Lizzycum-Maiden dual-guitar devil jigs, Botch-like metalcore particle-wave enigmas, classic-Rush pomp, and Metallica-worthy mentions of things that shouldn't be mentioned. Leviathanopens thrashing old-school Bay Areastyle, with "Blood and Thunder" and "I Am Ahab"both reminiscent of Remission, as is the 12-minute instrumental "John Merrick," the sequel to Mastodon's previous algebra ballad "Elephant Man." But these pachydermologists have grown even larger in the vocal department: Instead of constant primal screaming, Troy Sanders and Brent Hinds now frequently bark, howl, and moani.e., they actually sing! "Aqua Dementia" shows how low they can go: It's the whale belly of this quasi-conceptual behemoth.
Heavy-guitar fans will need drool buckets for all the pyrotechnics and endless stream of iron-clawed riffs that both bands spew, but for music so vehement, where do Converge and Mastodon go next? Infinite repeat (à la Slayer), clueless reinvention (Metallica or Cave In), potent evolution (like Neurosis or Swans)? Bets are on the last. They aren't stuck, just climbing another step toward greatness.