‘It’s like a rock opera’: Converge’s Jacob Bannon and Chelsea Wolfe stir up beautiful metal |  Music

‘It’s like a rock opera’: Converge’s Jacob Bannon and Chelsea Wolfe stir up beautiful metal | Music

VShelsea Wolfe and Jacob Bannon join today’s Zoom call from opposite sides of the US, in opposite situations. She is in her house in California. Everything in it looks white, modern and pristine. He is 3,000 miles away in rural Massachusetts, in his front garden, which is bordered by monolithic red maple trees. His kids are full of beans, and his dog is nipping at his heels.

“I just brought home my five- and seven-year-old,” he explains apologetically. “Their rabbits just had bunnies for the second time this year, and they just found all the tiny little bunnies waiting for them. That’s why they keep running over here.”

The dissonance is strikingly appropriate, since the pair could not be further apart musically, either. Bannon is the frontman of New England brutes Converge: on stage, he’s a screaming maverick – a stark difference from the soft-spoken bunny dad currently on Zoom. The quartet rose through the underground in the 1990s, their blend of hardcore punk’s incessant aggro and thrash metal’s pummeling, technical guitar playing making them one of the heaviest bands in the world.

Their fourth album, 2001’s Jane Doe, is not only considered their scene-alerting breakthrough moment; it’s also frequently hailed as among the finest extreme albums of the 21st century. It was fundamental to the development of an entirely new style: “metalcore”. Its acolytes today include names such as Killswitch Engage and Architects, who are among the most commercially successful metal acts this millennium. Without Converge, heavy music today would arguably sound very different.

Wolfe, on the other hand, has been producing darkly alluring music since 2010. Her six studio albums run the gamut from folk to prog, yet they’re all tethered by their slow-burning songs and the singer-songwriter’s delicate vocals. To cast her against Converge is, on paper, to cast the dulcet sounds of a songbird against the apoplectic roars of a grizzly bear.

Converge and Wolfe inhabit incompatible worlds – though that didn’t stop them colliding last year on their crossover album, Bloodmoon: I. Joined by Wolfe’s writing partner Ben Chisholm and Stephen Brodsky – frontman of Massachusetts rockers Cave In – the pair met in the middle by making a seenthing yet distraught post-metal album.

From its title track, all bets are off. Instead of the barreling riffs that have marked every other Converge album, there are acoustic guitars and pianos. Bannon hums ominously, soon complemented by Wolfe and her heartstring-plucking croon. It’s a gradual escalation to the inevitable cacophony that’s become Converge’s trademark. The plaintive Coil goes all-out goth with Wolfe’s voice to the fore. Failure Forever is a dark rock serenade with a surprisingly addictive hook, and Scorpion’s Sting is a hymn from the darkest gospel ever imagined. Converge have never felt as hopeless, nor has Wolfe ever been this heavy.

“I feel like it allowed us to bring all sides of ourselves out,” Wolfe reflects on the album, now six months removed from its release. “There weren’t specific rules of what the music needed to be.”

“Sometimes, we [in Converge] get known for certain sounds and characteristics,” Bannon adds. “This was quite free of a lot of those rules and tropes.”

Brand new heavies…Chelsea Wolfe and Converge.
Brand new heavies…Chelsea Wolfe and Converge. Photograph: Kimberly Maroon

For Wolfe, Bloodmoon: I isn’t just a change in musical direction; it represents a milestone in her personal life. The singer quit drinking in the run-up to recording. “I got sober in January of 2021,” she reveals, “and that’s when I started contributing vocals to this project. I felt really creatively free and a lot more clear.”

Wolfe has had a long, intense relationship with alcohol. Having grown up in a household surrounded by older sisters, she was drinking 40oz (1.1 litre) bottles of malt liquor by the time she was 11. She stopped during high school, then started again during her 20s.

“When I was starting to drink really heavily, it seemed like I could only create late at night,” she continues. “It wasn’t always that way, but during the pandemic it started to be that way. For many, many years, I was someone who relied on alcohol for a sort of self-confidence that I didn’t think I had. Finding that confidence in sobriety and channeling it into music was really important to me.”

Although Wolfe only started contributing to the project in early 2021, Bloodmoon: I had already been gestating for years. She was on Bannon’s radar as far back as the release of her second album, Apokalypsis, in 2011. Heavy metal is often regarded as an insular sect but Bannon’s tastes buck that trend: his label Deathwish releases everything from darkwave synthpop to shoegazey indie as well as a roster of fearsomely heavy bands, and he uses his downtime to dabble in an existential post-rock side-project called Wear Your Wounds.

“People think that folks who make heavy or aggressive music only stay in that wheelhouse in terms of what they listen to,” the frontman says. “That’s always far from the truth. I’ve always searched for interesting artists and interesting things.”

Seeing red … Chelsea Wolfe and Converge.
Seeing red … Chelsea Wolfe and Converge. Photograph: Kimberly Maroon

The inception of Bloodmoon: I was a 2016 tour, during which Converge, Wolfe, Chisholm and Brodsky played Converge songs and a host of covers together. It was during that run of shows that talk of composing original material together first started. Now the seven-piece are coming full circle: it was a European tour that sparked the album, and they’re returning to the continent at the end of June.

“After the [Bloodmoon] show in New York, a friend told me that it was like watching a rock opera or a musical,” Wolfe replies when asked what to expect of the impending tour. “There are so many people on stage, lots of voices. There’s a lot of dramatic emphasis. It’s different from a normal rock show.”

After the shows wrap, there’s the lingering possibility of a potential Bloodmoon: II. Bloodmoon: I’s title has left the project open-ended and Bannon is clear that there is music for a second album. “There’s still a lot of material that’s been recorded and that hasn’t been released. We hope to release it at some point soon.”

It is not something either Wolfe or Bannon are keen to focus on, though. Right now, the pair are still relishing their first collaboration, as well as the prospect of finally touring it after two years of Covid restrictions.

“This project, it’s just freedom,” Bannon proudly declares.

Wolfe concurs: “It’s allowed us to evolve as artists. If it inspires anyone else to do that, then that’s great.”

Converge and Chelsea Wolfe play Alexandra Palace theatre, London, on 28 June.

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