The Roadburn festival has made a habit of gathering musicians from all over the heavy music landscape and getting them to play unique sets. Napalm Death‘s set of slower songs in 2014, Enslaved‘s curated bill in 2015 and now Converge, the Slayer of our generation, was going to perform their slowest material with the help of prestigious friends such as Scott Kelly from Neurosis (but only for the festival), Chelsea Wolfe and Stephen Brodsky from Cave In.
To say that Converge‘s Blood moon set was anticipated would be an understatement of the highest order. I personally wrote a post about the set in December, five months before the event, and people were listening to my humble playlist of songs again two weeks before the event. Putting together a bill such as the one Converge had managed to assemble was not small feat but fits in with the current wave of collaboration I talked about in my recent article about Metal and Electro and showcase perfectly how hungry musicians and fans alike are for this kind of events. However, despite the success met by the other shows on this tour, the London date was not sold out, although most of the space was occupied by fans who came early.
Full of Hell and The Body opened and both produced a thick wall of noise, each their own way. I have seen both performed at least once before and each favors volumes over clarity. Full of Hell enjoys putting more discordance over their riffs while The Body always manages to play catchy music despite burying the bass line behind noise as thick as a dense wall of fog. Nonetheless, watching the two bands play remains an interesting experience if you focus mostly on the rhythm rather than on the riffs.
Then, Grime, who replaced 40 Watt Sun, took place to play some sludge. Sadly, their down-tuned songs didn’t offer much. The Italian quartet seemed to want to channel Noothgrush but with none of the feeling of dread and the sense of urgency displayed by the Californians. On the other hand, Crippled Black Phoenix had everything for them: the sound, the songs, the musicians, but not the audience. Despite playing with an impressive line-up of three guitar player, a bassist, a drummer and two keyboard players (one who also sang and played the trumpet occasionally) with a total of three to four vocalists, the audience seemed to prefer chatting, a fact that band leader Justin Greaves (ex. Iron Monkey) mocked towards the end of the set. Their set was nonetheless one of the best of the night.
And then finally, Converge. First, I would like to admit that I was mostly wrong regarding the playlist I had made. Out of the fourteen songs, only five I had selected made the cut. However, I cannot say that I was disappointed to have been so wrong. Starting with some slow-ish material with the added bonus of Stephen Brodsky, Converge performed a normal set that slowly morphed into the experiment they wanted to accomplish all along.
The added guitar of Brodsky brought more volume and aggressiveness to the songs but it’s the voice of the talented singer that really shined during Grim heart/Black rose. The man didn’t need to prove his value as a lead vocalist from his days in Cave In to his recent shows fronting Mutoid Man but he displayed on-stage the level of emotion and talent required to make one of the best songs of Converge‘s repertoire come alive like never before. Minnesota from the often overlooked split with Agoraphobic Nosebleed was next but things started to take a turn from the best to the fantastic with a cover of Disintegration by the Cure. There, Jacob Bannon showed his real talent as a singer while the band proved how versatile they can be.
Then came the time for Cruel bloom with the help on vocals of the haunting presence of Chelsea Wolfe and Nate Newton (Doomriders) who shared Scott Kelly‘s vocals. While the song is rather simplistic on album, the passionate performance of the Converge big band (with Bannon on bass and Ben Chisholm (Chelsea Wolfe) on the keyboard) brought the flower to life and offered to the audience with grace.
Wretched world also took another dimension with Wolfe on lead vocals but the real jewel of the set was the re-worked version of Last light. Bloodless and dry on the album, the musicians transformed this bitter piece of anguish into a doomsday folk dirge that brought the audience to its knees. Although I have no doubt that a professional recording of this song exists or will be recorded, I will treasure forever this fantastic performance where Converge showed their inner Swans.
After such a performance, only Jane Doe could bring the night to a fitting end and all came back to the stage slowly to bring the house down. Stephen Brodsky was first and proved that he should join Converge full time on second guitar by adding another perfect layer of vocals and guitar to the already fantastic equilibrium that the Bostonian have perfected over the years. Chelsea Wolfe only joined at the end of the song for its apocalyptic ending but it was a fitting conclusion for an explosive night to have all those musicians pushing their own limit for one last time. A beautiful night with a fitting title.