Left hand path vs. the right way. Mind vs. heart. The latest sonic experiment from beloved Massachusetts metalcore icons ushers in a new method of collaboration, both for the individuals involved and, really, for those of us who appreciate talent coming together with likeminded people.
Merging the band’s tried-and-true “do the right thing for the music” problem solving metallic hardcore expertise with the bewitched, emotionally-rich, dark rock of partners Chelsea Wolfe and Ben Chisholm—not to mention one of the most underrated icons of post-hardcore in Cave In’s Steve Brodsky. To call this a meeting of bona fide all stars (and not of the Smash Mouth variety, no disrespect), would be underselling what’s going on here.
Bloodmoon: I, out now via Deathwish Inc./Epitaph, came together as a sort of mutual admiration society for all of the project’s collective membership, serving as a way for like-minded-yet-very-different musicians to get out of their creative comfort zones. The result is a record imbued with all the passion, technicality, and personality you’d expect, though the outcome is also a welcome surprise. This isn’t Converge + Chelsea Wolfe + Cave In; rather, Bloodmoon: I is a beast of its own, full of musical left turns and smart songwriting touches. It’s also the best Converge album since Axe To Fall and certainly in the album of the year discussion.
Creating something this far out of left field doesn’t happen in a vacuum, as vocalist Jacob Bannon shares the band’s early—and continued—ethos:
“We were very open to hearing things and not really locked into the identity politics that happen a lot in heavy music where people can enjoy a team and stay as a team. A lot of bands now … Everyone’s kids when they start, they’re somewhere in their young adulthood, but we were actual teenagers, weren’t even out of high school. When we started playing a lot and doing bigger things.”
“I was actually young for my grade too,” he continues. “Everybody was a year or two older than me just by chance, so I was also in a different mental place. I think that also had a lot to do with how I perceived music and the importance of it and probably one of the reasons why I attached myself to our music and its power and meaning and giving me a sense of purpose and identity because I was young and searching for that sort of thing.”
Some of that flexibility and durability has come about through a shocking amount of member continuity over their three decades, right?
“I know, it’s just wild,” Bannon concurs. “We’re super fortunate to just have that longevity. We’re also respectful and flexible with one another in terms of how we approach things. We treat each other like peers. Not just peers, more like siblings where we have a really healthy respect for what everybody brings to the table and what we do. But we also give each other distance and come together when we need to. This has been the natural evolution of all of our relationships. Just the chemistry of all of that has worked out over time.”
But like any long-standing relationship, sometimes you know the typical needs to be upturned to grow, as Bannon explains:
“It was very, very different, and that’s by design, really. We just wanted to do something that challenged us again. It’s a weird thing. When you make art and music for a long time, things become formulaic regardless of what your approach is. One thing that [guitarist] Kurt [Ballou] and I have always talked about, and we talk about it a lot because we don’t really analyze what we do too much, we both in the past talked about trying to bring in more instrumentation and do different kinds of things within the band. We were talking about doing stuff like that back in the late ’90s, talking about pianos and keyboards and things like that.”
It kind of sounds like the band wanted to start a new band without breaking up the band, in a way, as Bannon acknowledges:
“The idea was always there to do something bigger like that. Working with other folks in the past and the more guest appearance style, way of doing things, has been cool. We basically wanted to join a new band within our band and have a different approach because those formulaic things in terms of how we all work together.
For example, in typical Converge, one of us would bring some sort of rough version of the song to the table. Then we all work to refine it and built it to what it is. Then it gets handed to me to be treated with lyrics and vocal phrasing and things like that. That’s the song’s identity, and that’s what it is. We’ve done that, rinse and repeat, for a very, very long time. It’s not broken; it’s not something that we hate or anything. But this far down our road, I think we want to just try to do something completely different.”
The core four Converge guys had conversations of what that new band would include, and Wolfe, Chisholm, and Brodsky were easy decisions, according to Bannon. It started as a series of shows in Europe, messing with current Converge song arrangements, but that taste wasn’t enough.
“It felt good. Almost immediately after, we’re like, ‘We need to continue this. We need to do more with this. Take it past just the reimagining of songs idea and really go out there and write proper music and just see where it takes us as people.’
Converge and Chelsea Wolfe, traditionally approach music differently, which made for a fun dichotomy. They both have two main ingredients, but act like the yin and yang of each out. Converge make heavy music with a pretty underling. Chelsea and Ben write gorgeous music that is astonishingly heavy at its undercurrent. This somehow is both things and something else altogether. Bannon concurs:
“Yes, it is the yin to the yang in terms of the final result. That’s an interesting thing. When we approached them to do this with us, it was interesting because we know them as a musical character that has this established sound and this presence. That’s magnetic for us and vice versa. We wanted to merge those worlds. But at the same time, we wanted to get prettier or at the very least, add more depth and dynamics to what we’re doing.
“Chelsea and Ben almost wanted to rock out harder [laughs]. “This reignited that excitement of creativity to me, really being in a room or at the very least sharing ideas in real time was pretty exciting for me and brought some of that magic back that, I think, can be fleeting to anybody who just deals with life’s challenges when they’re still trying to make art and music.”
So what is Wolfe’s take on this divine middle ground the album displays?
“Yes, maybe we met somewhere in the middle on that. I definitely leaned towards the heavier songs to sing on. I was working on vocalizations for a horror film score at the time, which stretched my voice into some new places, shrieking and growling, and that naturally transferred over to Bloodmoon a bit. As the songs started to form together, I started to sense a sort of mythological feel to it all—big themes, ancient symbols like coiled snakes and bloody sunrises after a battle. I started to visualize those mythic themes in my head as I worked on the songs.”
Bloodmoon: I is a lot to take in all at once (and I mean that in the best way) because I can almost feel the pain, effort, and intentionality everyone put into it. It makes me want to be a better, more “present” person and reconnect with the world around me. Did writing and being open with people they don’t normally write with challenge themselves? Wolfe shares that it definitely did:
“I’ve also been focusing on being more present and intentional these past couple years, and especially this year since I gave up alcohol in January. These Bloodmoon songs presented the perfect canvas for me to take this new presence and clarity of mind and experiment with creativity. But since it was mostly done during the pandemic, I also had the luxury of being able to write and record in my own space at home, and most of the ideas were sent back and forth.
“It’s still vulnerable to send a vocal idea to six other people and be like, ‘Hey, so here’s me screaming the word ‘deicide’ over and over, what do you think?’ [laughs], but definitely less vulnerable than doing that in person in front of those same six people. That said, we were able to get together at the very end, this past summer, to finalize the mixes together, and we all ended up coming up with new ideas and adding bits of vocals and instruments at the last minute that really brought the songs to life, so I see how special and important it can be to work together in person, and I look forward to more of that in the future.”
I’m deathly afraid of snakes (no idea why), but the record feels like a therapeutic constrictor squeezing my negativity away and calming my mind. It’s hypnotic and—for lack of a better word—witchy/magical, like Converge are calling to a part of the listener’s soul. Were there any themes that were particularly noteworthy?
“Yes, the theme of the snake is very strong,” Wolfe states. “I don’t think I’ve shared this with the band even, but right before I quit drinking, I had this very visceral dream that I was pulling a long yellow snake out of my mouth; it was like a cleansing of sorts. And the symbol of the serpent has a long history of being associated with medicine, healing, transformation—it felt like a renewal of life to weave it throughout this album. And for me this album feels like a joy in the dark—there’s a lot of bright colors and interesting twists and turns that take you on a journey, so the snake definitely represents that as well.”
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