Converge: Axe to Fall (Epitaph) 

Converge set the metal-core bar so high with 2001's Jane Doe—a sci-fi-tinged concept album exploring the idea that heartbreak, at times, is akin to brutal first-degree murder—that the Salem, Mass., quartet has struggled ever since to again reach an epic and unforgettable plateau for aggressive music.

Clearly, Axe to Fall aims to recapture a bit of the profoundly alien sensibility and weird terror that consistently puts Doe at the top of any metalhead/punker's desert-island disc list. Thanks to guitarist Kurt Ballou's angularly nimble guitar licks, "Dark Horse" barrels out of the gate with cosmic attitude and effortless authority. "Reap What You Sow" and "Cutter," meanwhile, stand as Converge's thrashiest numbers to date, giving Megadeth's Dave Mustaine a run for his peace money.

But then there's the doomy, four-chord "Wishing Well," a surprise turn into Sabbath territory. Still, it isn't until "Slave Driver," with Ballou's tremolo-picking drone creating an eerie backdrop, that we finally get a taste of the interstellar overdrive that makes Converge impossible to ignore. It's a short-lived moment, however.

If you can stomach the indie-folkish "Cruel Bloom" and predictably constructed post-rock pastiche "Wretched World," then Axe to Fall will surely carve you up. However, if you're hoping to get your mind blown wide open, you may be disappointed to learn that Converge appears more interested in assimilating diverse musical styles into its volatile foundation.

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