What happens when you cross the kings of mathcore with rock’s darkest female artist? It’s a question we’ve all been pondering since both camps announced their collaboration in late September 2021, and it’s one that will excite the hipsters as well as the hardcore crowd. In the making since 2016, Chelsea Wolfe brings in her collaborator Ben Chisolm and Stephen Brodsky of Cave In to join forces with Kurt Ballou and the boys for an extraordinary attempt at uniting two distinct sounds into one coherent vision. But does it work?
Many critics describe Bloodmoon: I as experimental doom metal, but anyone who thinks they can reduce this work to such a loose term will realise the folly of their ways. True, the band that released 2001’s legendary Jane Doe album are now more of a prog metal artist than a mathcore disruptor. But Converge learned long ago that you can retain a hyper violent aggression while operating at slower tempos, and it’s a self-evident truth Chelsea Wolfe started out with when she launched her music career. Opener, ‘Blood Moon’, is a slow and grinding assault, but it’s never sluggish or one-dimensional. Listen how the ambient folk instrumentation at the beginning pulsates with the sultry tones of Siouxsie and the Banshees before Chelsea enters with her haunting croon. She said this album is a chance to exhibit the more vulnerable side of her voice, and she’s not wrong. Fans of her earlier work will wonder at what point she started sounding like the excellent Emma Ruth Rundle. You might be pondering this for two minutes before Jacob Bannon jumps in with his characteristic spleen-rupturing roar. The heavy staccato assault and good cop/bad cop dichotomy between the two vocalists is the clear heart of the song, but the atmospheric subtleties of the two guitars merit a second listen. This is how you blend harsh distortion with the ethereal tones of an imaginary transcendence from the corporeal world.
Standout tracks on Bloodmoon: I are not obvious on first listen. This is because the two camps bring a lot to the table and often meet in a centre ground of late-night gloom. Converge’s background in hardcore means they’ll never fall into the trap of rehashing a pentatonic doom metal dirge. Kurt Ballou’s determination to blend melody and harsh noise comes to the fore on the excellent ‘Viscera of Men’. It starts like a bass-heavy blast of hardcore and then makes an abrupt change of gear into a slow Neurosis outburst with Bannon and Wolfe locking in on an exquisite harmony. Their union on ‘Coil’ is even better. Here, the delicate glitter of acoustic arpeggios provides the perfect platform for Wolfe to add her ghostly enunciations and Bannon to demonstrate the haunting texture of his baritone register. The decision to end the number with a violent slab of post-metal posturing only adds to the delight.
At times you wonder how much input Wolfe had in the song-writing. Her contribution to ‘Flower Moon’ and the Jesus Lizard-esque noise rock of ‘Tongues Playing Dead’ is minimal. Her fanbase will prefer the second half of the record where ‘Scorpion’s Sting’ and ‘Daimon’ allow her to impose her will on the music. The former is the type of late-afternoon guitar meander beneath a setting sun that suits her best. Here we can appreciate the full power of her melodious anxiety as much as we can recognise in the latter the artist that produced 2015’s masterful Abyss record. “Your children will answer for your crimes – fate won’t be denied,” quivers Wolfe at the beginning like a woman trapped in the chill of a lonely November wind. Bannon plays his part like Layne Staley suppressing his demons in the purview of an MTV Unplugged audience. It’s a remarkable seven minutes of rumination and escape from emotional immiseration.
Though five years in the making, the fifty-eight minutes of Bloodmoon I feel like a ten-year collaboration. This is the main weakness of the LP. Nine songs would be ideal, but the twelve cuts make the listening experience more of an obligation than a pleasure towards the end. ‘Crimson Stone’ and ‘Blood Dawn’ have their merits, but you cannot help wondering if the final two tracks were the last to come together. In this instance, Converge rely too much on the captivating fervour of Wolfe’s voice and neglect their musical input. Their fanbase will enjoy the nocturnal doom of ‘Flower Moon’, with its celestial keyboards and playful bass line. ‘Lord of Liars’ is perhaps the best example of the collaboration at its most effortless – think Emma Ruth Rundle jamming with Dillinger Escape Plan in their lighter moments.
You’ll find little to dislike about Bloodmoon: I. The prospect of two acclaimed artists joining forces is too good to leave on a wish list. Both camps harbour a determination to translate their restless energy and bipolar musical personalities into a record worthy of the headline name on the poster. It’ll take a few listens before it clicks, but it’s worth the effort.
Release Date: 19/11/2021
Record Label: Epitaph Records
Standout tracks: Viscera of Men, Coil, Scorpion’s Sting
Suggested Further Listening: Emma Ruth Rundle and Thou – May Our Chambers Be Full (2020), Neurosis & Jarboe – Neurosis & Jarboe (2003), Lethian Dreams – A Shadow of Memories (2020)