“It’s like a rock opera”: Converge’s Jacob Bannon and Chelsea Wolfe rock the beautiful metal | Music
VSJoining today’s Zoom call from opposite sides of the United States, in opposite situations, are Helena Wolfe and Jacob Bannon. She’s at her home in California. Everything is white, modern and immaculate. It sits 3,000 miles away in rural Massachusetts, in its front yard, lined with monolithic red maple trees. Her children are full of beans and her dog nibbles her heels.
“I just brought home my children aged five and seven,” he explains apologetically. “Their bunnies just had bunnies for the second time this year, and they just found all the tiny bunnies waiting for them. That’s why they keep running here.
The dissonance is surprisingly appropriate, since the pair couldn’t be further apart musically either. Bannon is the leader of the New England bullies Converge: on stage, he’s a screaming maverick – a stark difference from the soft-spoken Daddy Rabbit currently on Zoom. The quartet rocked the underground in the 1990s, their blend of the relentless aggro of hardcore punk and the technical, hard-hitting guitar playing of thrash metal making them one of the heaviest bands in the world.
Their fourth album, 2001’s Jane Doe, is not only considered their defining moment on the scene; it is also frequently hailed as one of the best extreme albums of the 21st century. It was fundamental for the development of a whole new style: “metalcore”. His bandmates today include names like Killswitch Engage and Architects, who are among the most commercially successful metal bands of this millennium. Without Converge, today’s heavy music would probably sound very different.
Wolfe, on the other hand, has been churning out dark, seductive music since 2010. His six studio albums run the gamut from folk to prog, but they’re all tied to their slow songs and the songwriter’s delicate vocals. -interpreter. Throwing it against Converge is, on paper, throwing the sweet sounds of a songbird against the apoplectic roars of a grizzly bear.
Converge and Wolfe inhabit incompatible worlds – though that didn’t stop them from colliding last year on their crossover album, Bloodmoon: I. Joined by Wolfe’s songwriting partner Ben Chisholm and rocker frontman Stephen Brodsky from the Massachusetts Cave In – the pair met in the middle while making a seething but upset post-metal album.
Since its title track, all bets are off. Instead of the riffs that have marked all other Converge albums, there are acoustic guitars and pianos. Bannon hums ominously, soon complemented by Wolfe and his jaw-dropping croon. It’s a gradual escalation towards the inevitable cacophony that has become Converge’s trademark. Plaintive Coil goes gothic with Wolfe’s vocals front and center. Failure Forever is a dark rock serenade with a surprisingly addictive hook, and Scorpion’s Sting is the darkest gospel anthem ever imagined. Converge has never felt so desperate, and Wolfe has never felt so heavy.
“I feel like it allowed us to bring out all the sides of ourselves,” Wolfe recalled of the album, now six months off its release. “There were no specific rules about what the music should be.”
“Sometimes we [in Converge] become known for certain sounds and characteristics,” adds Bannon. “It was pretty free from a lot of those rules and tropes.”
For Wolfe, Bloodmoon: I is not just a change of musical direction; this represents an important step in his personal life. The singer quit drinking just before the recording. “I got sober in January 2021,” she reveals, “and that’s when I started contributing vocals to this project. I felt really creatively free and a lot clearer.
Wolfe had a long and intense relationship with alcohol. Growing up in a family surrounded by older sisters, she was drinking 40 oz (1.1 litre) bottles of malt liquor by age 11. She quit in high school, then started again at 20.
“When I started drinking heavily, I felt like I could only create late at night,” she continues. “It wasn’t always like this, but during the pandemic it started to be like this. For many years I was someone who relied on alcohol to build a kind of self-confidence that I didn’t realize 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 in the works for years. She was on Bannon’s radar as soon as his second album, Apokalypsis, was released in 2011. Heavy metal is often seen as an insular cult, but Bannon’s tastes buck that trend: his label Deathwish came out of everything from darkwave synthpop to shoegazey indie. like a dreadfully heavy band list, and he’s been using his spare time to embark on an existential post-rock side project called Wear Your Wounds.
“People think that people who make heavy or aggressive music only stay in that wheelhouse based on what they’re listening to,” the frontman said. “That’s still far from the truth. I’ve always looked for interesting artists and interesting things.
The creation of Bloodmoon: I Was a 2016 tour, during which Converge, Wolfe, Chisholm and Brodsky performed Converge songs and a host of covers together. It was during this series of shows that discussions about composing original material together began. Today, the circle is complete for the seven musicians: it was a European tour that triggered the album, and they return to the continent at the end of June.
“After the [Bloodmoon] show in New York, a friend told me it was like watching a rock opera or a musical,” Wolfe replies when asked what to expect from the upcoming tour. “There are so many people on stage, a lot of voices. There is a lot of dramatic emphasis. It’s different from a normal rock show.
After the shows end, there’s the lingering possibility of a potential Bloodmoon: II. Bloodmoon: The title of I left the project open and Bannon is clear there is music for a second album. “There’s still a lot of material that’s been recorded that hasn’t been released. We hope to release it sometime soon.
It’s not something Wolfe or Bannon are keen to focus on, however. As of now, the couple are still relishing their first collaboration, as well as the prospect of finally visiting after two years of Covid restrictions.
“This project is all about freedom,” says Bannon proudly.
Wolfe confirms: “It allowed us to evolve as artists. If it inspires someone else to do it, then great.
Converge and Chelsea Wolfe perform at the Alexandra Palace Theater in London on June 28.